Ranking the Most Exciting Moments in NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Star History
The 29th running of NASCAR's All-Star Race is set for Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. For nearly three decades, the brightest stars in NASCAR have bumped, banged and raced each other for bragging rights and lots of cash.
There have been so many outstanding moments involving the sport's greatest stars: Darrell Waltrip battling the late Dale Earnhardt, Davey Allison dueling with Earnhardt and then holding off Kyle Petty, Dale Earnhardt Jr. outpacing the older competition as a young, brash rookie and so much more.
Paring the list of the finest All-Star moments to 10 was no easy task. You might say it was a whole lot like the usually futile habit of trying to pick the winner from year to year.
10. Kasey Kahne Crashes The Party
When the night began in 2008, Kasey Kahne wasn't even certain he would be included in the All-Star field. Driving the No. 9 Budweiser-sponsored Dodge for Gillett Evernham Motorsports, Kahne actually was headed home from Charlotte Motor Speedway when he learned he had won the fan vote that would allow him to transfer from the preliminary race—then called the All-Star Showdown—into the main event.
Forced to start at the rear of the field, Kahne eventually made up precious ground on a quick mandatory pit stop in which crew chief Kenny Francis called for no tires. He then took the lead with 16 laps remaining in the final segment and held off Greg Biffle, who had taken on two fresh tires on his final pit stop, for the victory.
It was the first All-Star triumph for Dodge as a manufacturer, and the first—and so far only—time that a driver voted into the main event by fans has won it.
9. Jimmie Johnson Cashes Cool $1 Million
Jimmie Johnson joined Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon as the only three-time winners of the event last May. But it was uneventful compared to the first time he won in 2003, becoming the first Cup driver to cash a cool $1 million check for doing so.
He did so by passing Hendrick Motorsports teammate Gordon late in the race. Johnson, remember, was not yet the five-time champion he is today. In fact, he had no titles at the time and Gordon already had captured four. Johnson later credited the victory for helping his No. 48 Chevrolet team begin gaining the momentum that would lead to its string of championships.
"That year was a very, very special for us. In a lot of ways, that helped us find our stride and our confidence as a race team," Johnson told Speed TV when looking back on it in 2009. "To win such a big event in dramatic fashion ... it was a springboard for us."
8. Tony Stewart Wins as Driver—and Owner
Tony Stewart crossed a couple of items off his bucket list in one night in 2009, winning his first All-Star event and his first race as a team owner at the same time.
Stewart passed Matt Kenseth with two laps to go in the final 10-lap shootout to secure the victory, which validated his decision to leave Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of the previous season to become driver-owner for the newly formed Stewart-Haas Racing.
In winning, Stewart became just the second driver-owner to win the All-Star Race. Geoff Bodine was the first, winning it in 1994.
7. Darrell Waltrip Captures Inaugural All-Star Event
Darrell Waltrip set the tone for all the All-Star Race to come when he won the inaugural event on the last turn of the last lap—and then had the engine in his No. 11 Chevrolet blow up just after he crossed the finish line to take the checkered flag in 1985.
It was yet another defining moment in what would be a NASCAR Hall of Fame driving career, as Waltrip tracked down and passed Harry Gant on that final turn to win. The problem came the next day as former Waltrip crew chief and current Fox broadcaster Jeff Hammond explained in a May 2012 article he wrote.
Bottom line: The first All-Star Race was run on Saturday. And because of the blown engine and changes NASCAR mandated and then told car owner Junior Johnson had to be altered, Johnson very nearly pulled Waltrip from the Coca-Cola 600 that was run the next day. Eventually, the situation was resolved, and Waltrip went on to win that race and eventually the 1985 points championship, too.
6. Jeff Gordon Goes Jurassic Park on the Competition
Jeff Gordon had already won one All-Star Race when he arrived at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the 1997 event. And even though he won in 1995 with a backup car after wrecking in the first corner of that race and receiving an unusual reprieve from NASCAR, Gordon to this day says the '97 race was his most memorable.
His opponents that night couldn't forget it if they tried. Driving the Jurassic Park-sponsored No. 24 Chevrolet, Gordon chewed up the competition and spit them out one by one until he had completely dominated the field. He won all three segments of the race handily, and later the chassis design that some described as "revolutionary" was outlawed for even special non-points events.
"Going out there and dominating that event, winning all three segments, is something that you don't see very often," Gordon later told the Motor Racing Network.
5. Rusty And Darrell Tangle
Coming to the fourth turn to get the white flag signifying one lap to go in 1989, Darrell Waltrip and Rusty Wallace came together and daytime fireworks ensued.
Waltrip, trying to win the race for a second time, ended up spinning off the track and was relegated to a seventh-place finish. Wallace went on to win. Afterward, both drivers and their race teams were angry with each other and they made no attempt to hide it.
Waltrip was so upset that he told Wallace of his first-place winnings: "I hope you choke on that $200,000," according to SportingNews.com
4. Michael Waltrip Pulls Off Huge Upset
No one gave Michael Waltrip, Darrell's younger brother and a far less accomplished driver, a second thought as the 1996 All-Star night opened.
But Waltrip drove fast enough to transfer into the main event after running in a preliminary race and then shocked the racing world by winning the All-Star Race as well. It was the first Cup event the younger Waltrip had ever won, and he did it while driving a No. 21 Ford for the legendary Wood Brothers.
"It was a great night to be able to celebrate with the Wood brothers," Waltrip later told Motor Racing Network. "I remember when (they) handed their car over to me. I thought that was a big deal that they trusted me with the family car. I didn't get a lot of that when I was a kid. For them to do that and for me to be able to go out there and perform and win the All-Star Race for them and us as a team was just one of the highlights of my career."
3. The 'Other' Earnhardt Wins
It's hard to believe it has been 13 years now since the young, brash Dale Earnhardt Jr. burst onto the Cup scene and captured the 2000 All-Star Race as a series rookie.
This was before his father's death that was to come the following February in a last-lap wreck at the 2001 Daytona 500. Called "Little E" by many at the time (a nickname that seemed to disappear as he grew up quickly in the aftermath of his father's passing), the younger Earnhardt came on the radio late in his first All-Star event and calmly told his team: "This has been pretty damn easy so far. Give me four fresh tires and I'll go win this damn thing," according to the book The Wildest Ride.
Then, remarkably, he did it by driving past then-defending Cup champion Dale Jarrett. He celebrated later in Victory Lane with his legendary father.
2. Pass In The Grass
The All-Star Race was still establishing itself in 1987 when it returned to Charlotte Motor Speedway after the second such event had been held at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1986.
The third installment in the All-Star saga did not disappoint. With seven laps to go, Dale Earnhardt was battling defending race champion Bill Elliott for the lead when their two race cars made contact on the front stretch, sending Earnhardt's No. 3 Chevrolet into the infield grass. Somehow, Earnhardt maintained control and jumped back on the track when it looked as if he was headed for disaster. He even remained in the lead.
Two laps later, a blown tire took Elliott out of contention. Earnhardt went on to claim the first of what would be three All-Star victories by 0.74 seconds over Terry Labonte.
1. Lights, Camera, Action on One Hot Night
Lights, camera, action! In arguably the one race most singularly responsible for increasing the number of night races in NASCAR and the enormous popularity of the All-Star event, Humpy Wheeler, then the president of Charlotte Motor Speedway, decided to hold the 1992 race under the lights for the first time.
With the race cars gleaming under the bright lights and sparks sometimes flying from underneath them to further light up the night, the drivers delivered big time. Dale Earnhardt was leading on the last lap of the final 10-lap segment, but he was being chased down from behind by Kyle Petty, who clipped Earnhardt and sent him into the Turn 3 wall. Davey Allison, following close behind, took advantage as Petty checked up to avoid the wrecking Earnhardt and passed him.
But Petty wasn't finished. He came back and clipped Allison just as Allison narrowly beat him to the finish line, sending Allison spinning hard into the outside wall, where the impact knocked him unconscious. Allison had to be airlifted from the track in a helicopter and did not regain consciousness until he arrived at a local hospital.