As the NASCAR community descends upon Charlotte for the traditional Charlotte race weeks, which include the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race and the Coca-Cola 600 that take place over the next two weekends at Charlotte Motor Speedway, all of the focus turns to the rough and tumble non-points event set for this Saturday night.
With that in mind, this week’s edition of “Throwback Thursday Theater” takes a look back at one of the more memorable All-Star races in history, the 2000 running of “The Winston.”
Prior to the main event, there would be four preliminary events for those not already eligible to gain entry into the All-Star race itself. The four races would be the two No Bull 25 qualifying races that would set the field for the Winston Open, a 30 lap event in which the winner of that race would gain entry to The Winston. Steve Park, who finished second in his qualifying race, went on to win the Winston Open to transfer through to The Winston. The fourth preliminary event would be the No Bull Sprint, which was a 16 lap last chance race for those who were left to try and transfer through as well. Jerry Nadeau, who had won his qualifying race, took the victory and captured the final starting spot for The Winston.
Heading into the All-Star race itself, Bill Elliott took his No 94 Ford to the pole position and looked to be the man to beat in the 70 lap event that would be broken down into three segments, two 30 lap segments and a final 10 lap segment.
Just as predicted, Elliott took off like a rocket and would win the first segment, followed by Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Besides Elliott’s dominance, the first segment was pretty tame after only being slowed for two cautions that involved one car apiece. John Andretti was involved in the first caution, while Michael Waltrip was involved in the second.
After the first segment, the top 12 finishers from segment one were inverted, handing the front row for the start of segment two over to Joe Nemechek and Jeremy Mayfield.
Segment two would prove to be quite a bit wilder, as the fast cars would have to try and weave their way through the pack to make it back to the front of the field. Eight laps in, the first multi-car wreck of the race broke out when Jeff Gordon spun in the middle of the field, causing Park, Dale Earnhardt, Bobby Labonte, and Jeff Burton to get involved as well.
Once the field went back to green, more carnage broke out 16 laps later going down the backstretch when Tony Stewart got into the back of Martin and sent him spinning head-on into the outside wall, which destroyed the front end of Martin’s car and caused it to catch fire. Martin would be OK, but the car, which his team was planning on using in the Coca-Cola 600 the following week, was unsalvageable.
When the 30 lap second segment was all said and done, it would be Elliott in the lead once again, followed by Dale Jarrett and Earnhardt, Jr.
With the first two segments complete, the field would get set for the final 10 lap dash for the cash, with the winner taking home a $500,000 payday.
As expected, things got a little crazy with that much prize money and no points on the line. With Jarrett having taken over the lead from Elliott, Park and Nemechek were behind them cutting each other no slack at all. Park got into Nemechek down the backstretch to get Nemechek out of shape, but the driver of the No. 33 would not be denied as he kept his foot in the gas and went right back after Park. When the field got back into Turn 1 on the following lap, Nemechek got into the back of Park and the melee was on from there. By the time the wreck was through, a total of four cars were involved and heavily damaged, including Park, Nemechek, Gordon, and Stewart.
While under caution, both Elliott, who had dropped back a good bit after starting in the front at the start of the final segment, and Earnhardt, Jr., who was third at the time of the caution, decided to come down pit road and get four fresh tires and make adjustments to try and make a run to the front for the win.
When the race went back to green on lap three, Earnhardt, Jr. immediately began making progress through the field, picking off several drivers, including his father and Jerry Nadeau, who were second and third at the time.
Once he got to second, he set his sights on leader Dale Jarrett, who was having some rear gear issues causing smoke to trail from behind his No. 88 Ford. Earnhardt, Jr. took his No. 8 Chevrolet high on Jarrett in Turn 3 on the next to last lap and blew by Jarrett to take the lead as the field took the white flag. Earnhardt would pull away from there and went on to become the first rookie to win The Winston and the rookie took home a $500,000 payday as well.
“We didn’t come here to run third, we came to take all the money!” Earnhardt, Jr. said after the win.
Beyond Earnhardt, Jr. winning the race, what made the race special was the everlasting image of both Earnhardt, Jr. and Earnhardt, Sr. in victory lane celebrating the win with both having smiles on their faces that stretched from ear to ear.
“I couldn’t believe it. I thought I could get up there and give Jarrett some trouble and I looked in my mirror and here this thing comes. I don’t know what Tony and those guys did or what this kid did. He adjusted it on the wall back there it looked like and got it running better,” said Dale Earnhardt, Sr. in victory lane.
In an interview with the Associated Press back in 2007, Earnhardt, Jr. recalled the post-race moments with his father that the two enjoyed after the win.
“That was the only Victory Lane that he stood in the entire time for the whole half hour, 45 minutes that we were there. He was really enjoying not only the father-son relationship, but I think he was enjoying the fact that he had built a team that was the winner of the All-Star race,” said Earnhardt, Jr. “He told me, ‘This is a big deal, make sure you have fun with this. You enjoy every minute of it.”
HHP Images/Harold Hinson