By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
This is All-Star week, which means that we are in store for a $1-million winner take all slugfest, where points aren’t on the line. The race this year has a brand new format, which seems destined to produce some great moments, but when you look back at the history of this event you’ll see that it might not have needed the extra boost in excitement.
Without further adieu, here are the ten greatest moments in All-Star race history according to me:
10. Newman blows up (2001)
This one didn’t technically happen in the All-Star race, but rather the last chance qualifying event leading up to the big show.
Ryan Newman, who was driving a part-time schedule as a developmental driver for Team Penske, held the lead and was pulling away from the field in the Winston Open.
While going through turns three and four, coming to just two laps remaining, Newman’s motor went up in smoke and his shot at getting into the All-Star race was done for. But Newman kept his head up when he climbed from his powerless No. 02 car.
“I’m as much excited as I am frustrated I guess,” Newman said. “To be able to run up front and race like that is just phenomenal.”
Newman would race in the All-Star race a year later and would win the event as a rookie.
9. Johnson outsmarts the field to win (2012)
Jimmie Johnson has won more All-Star races than anyone with four, but none of his wins took as much thought as his 2012 victory. Johnson and his crew chief Chad Knaus snookered the field by utilizing a loophole in that year’s race format.
Johnson won the race’s first segment, which under the 2012 rules, assured him of a top-four starting spot in the final segment, so Johnson limped around for the rest of the race until the final segment began. Then Johnson, who had conserved his stuff all race long, dropped the hammer.
Johnson went on to easily beat Brad Keselowski to take home a $1,000,000 check, prompting NASCAR to continue to tweak the All-Star race rules.
8. Darrell’s younger brother surprises (1996)
Michael Waltrip has always raced in the shadow of his brother Darrell. The younger Waltrip didn’t win a points paying race until his 463rd start, which came in 2001. That being said, even making it into an All-Star race would have been a huge accomplishment for Waltrip.
In 1996, Waltrip — driving for the Wood Brothers Racing Team — did make it into the big show, by advancing from the Winston Open. When the field lined up for the third and final segment, Waltrip was in a great position — fourth — to steal a win.
One lap into the segment, Waltrip moved around Rusty Wallace for third, when all of a sudden Dale Earnhardt and Terry Labonte made contact while battling for the lead. Waltrip would scoot by on the low side of the track, and he wouldn’t look back as he led the remainder of the final segment.
Waltrip would win in the biggest upset in All-Star race history.
7. Rookie Winner (2000)
Before the year 2000, rookie drivers just didn’t win the All-Star race, it just wasn’t a thought that even crossed your mind.
However, Dale Earnhardt Jr. kept his nose clean in the early segments in the 2000 edition of the race, which gave him a chance heading into the final segment.
All Earnhardt Jr. would have to do is pass then future Hall of Famers Dale Jarrett and Bill Elliott.
Earnhardt would get around Elliott for second, and then he reeled in Jarrett. Jarrett’s car had began to smoke and was wounded, so it was just a matter of time.
Earnhardt Jr. got around for the lead and the dramatic win.
6. Just a couple Busch’s in the wall (2007)
The All-Star race is always filled with the best talent in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but unfortunately sometimes that talent runs out. That was the case in the 2007 edition.
Kyle Busch had led 24 laps, and was frantically trying to get back to the front to win a $1,000,000 pay day. However his older brother, Kurt Busch was in his way.
The younger Busch ran out of Patrice and went for a high-risk move, which sent him into his brother’s car crashing both of them out on lap 62.
This caused a rift in the family and the two didn’t speak for months. Eventually, their mother Gaye Busch got the two brothers back on the same page.
5. T-Rex: Evernham’s greatest achievement (1997)
This one has NASCAR officials still stuffing antacids down their throats.
In 1997 Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham brought a car so fast, so tricked up and so much in the gray area of the rule book that NASCAR banned the car from ever coming back to the race track.
Gordon started next to last in the 20 car field, but when the chips were on the line in the final segment, he made quick work of his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Terry Labonte. Gordon would lead the final nine laps in Ray Evernham’s greatest piece of art, T-Rex. NASCAR added several chapters to the rule book in the days after this race.
4. Hope he chokes on that money (1989)
Darrell Waltrip and Rusty Wallace were the class of the field in this race, and of course they were left to duke it out in the closing laps.
Waltrip led Wallace going into the final turn of race, when the two made contact which sent Waltrip spinning out of first. Wallace would cruise to the checkered flag, Waltrip would finish seventh.
As Wallace worked his way toward pit road a huge brawl broke out between the pit crews of Waltrip and Wallace’s teams. After things settled down Waltrip was quoted, “I hope he chokes on that $200,000.”
3. Bring out the backups (2001)
The start of the 2001 All-Star race was horribly botched. As the field took the green flag, rain had begun to fall on Charlotte Motor Speedway.
When the cars reached turn one, just about everybody slid up into the wall. Kevin Harvick had a hard impact into the outside wall. Jeff Gordon spun out and was tagged hard by Michael Waltrip. Only a handful of cars made it through the first turn.
As the race was red flagged for rain, NASCAR opted to allow teams that were involved in the crash to bring out their backup cars.
The race was wild. There were eight different leaders, but it was Jeff Gordon who took one of the hardest shots in the opening melee that won the event.
2. One hot night (1992)
The race that absolutely lived up to the hype. The first-ever night edition of the All-Star race was thrilling, a true spectacle and in the end dangerous.
Davey Allison’s car was hands down the best in the field, but the field was inverted after the first segment, which sent Allison to the back of the pack. Kyle Petty showed some muscle during the second segment, while Allison worked his way up to sixth just before the final 10-lap dash. When the final segment began it was apparent that this was a three horse race between Petty, Allison and Dale Earnhardt.
With five laps to go, Earnhardt got past Petty for the lead, but Petty and Allison wouldn’t go away. On the final lap all sorts of chaos erupted.
Petty closed into Earnhardt off of turn two, and looked ready to pass for the lead, so Earnhardt threw a huge block. Petty didn’t lift as they reached turn three which sent Earnhardt spinning from the lead.
As this was happening, Allison stayed in the gas and got beside Petty as they approached the checkered flag. The two bumped, and then Petty sent Allison spinning driver-side first into the outside retaining wall. Allison would win the race, but would suffer a concussion and would spend the night in the hospital.
1. The pass in the grass (1987)
Have you ever wanted something so badly that nothing would be able to stand in your way of getting it? For Dale Earnhardt that one object was the 1987 Winston All-Star Race.
Bill Elliott had utterly dominated the event, as he led 121 of the 135 laps. But in the closing stages, Earnhardt held the lead. Elliott was wearing out the bumper of the No. 3 Monte Carlo, but Earnhardt wouldn’t relent.
With a few laps remaining Elliott had Earnhardt dead to rights coming down the front stretch, but Earnhardt blocked. The two made contact, Earnhardt slid into the grass, gathered his composure, and came back onto the racing surface. Earnhardt held the lead and wouldn’t look back.
Elliott would suffer a flat tire after all the contact with Earnhardt, and would finish 14th. Afterward, Elliott slammed into Earnhardt’s car on the cool down lap.