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Points? We don't need no stinking points.
Not with $1 million on the line, at least. Since its inception in 1985, the springtime exhibition in NASCAR's premier series has featured some of the most rough-and-tumble action to be found on the schedule, and without benefit of any championship points at stake. It was designed to mimic a night at the short track -- a series of heat races with only a trophy and a check on the line, and after some unsteady first steps has become a mainstay on the sport's calendar.
For the longest time it was known as The Winston, and it's since evolved into the more accurately entitled Sprint All-Star Race, but all along it's been a spectacular where the fireworks in the sky pale in comparison to those on the race track. This is, after all, an event that gave us a caution period because of rock 'n' roll, when the Red Hot Chili Peppers played one extra (and unexpected, to race control) song when they performed in between segments in 2006. There were no indications that Flea was called to the hauler afterward.
It's given us brothers feuding with one another, Richard Childress angry at a Busch long before he threatened to take off his watch, an actual do-over because of rain, a guy who won in a backup car, perhaps the most infamous vehicle in NASCAR history, and a single night that revolutionized the sport forever. All of it without a single point in the balance. Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway brings the latest edition of this most unique NASCAR event, and who knows what moments might unfold? Until then, here are the top 10.
10. Seeing yellow, then red
No one thought much about the 2002 crash involving Kurt Busch and Robby Gordon, a pair of headstrong drivers unafraid of contact on the track. That is, until afterward, when Busch finished fourth and then admitted to spinning Gordon intentionally to bring out a caution he needed to try and win the race. Childress, owner of Gordon's car at the time, was not happy: "I will personally kick his (butt) if he wrecks one of my cars and I know he did it on purpose," he said. NASCAR wasn't happy, either, fining Busch $10,000. There may have been no points at stake in the exhibition, but the rules of decorum still applied.
9. Teammate tirade
Of course, hurt feelings after the All-Star Race are about as common as crushed beer cans in the grandstands. Next example: 2010, when Denny Hamlin blocked Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch with eight laps left. The No. 18 car bounced off the wall, and four laps later blew a tire. "Somebody better keep me away from Denny Hamlin after this race," Busch fumed over the radio. "I swear to God, I'm going to kill that -- " well, you get the picture. Busch rolled into the garage and parked in front of Hamlin's hauler, and it took a 20-minute summit mediated by car owner Gibbs to cool things down.
8. Mikey's time
Before he won a pair of Daytona 500 titles, Michael Waltrip was most famous -- or infamous, depending on the point of view -- for a career winless skid in points-paying events that ended at 462 starts. But he did earn one victory before that, in the 1996 all-star exhibition, and doing it the hard way by racing his way in through a qualifying event earlier in the night. On Lap 62 of 70, leaders Dale Earnhardt and Terry Labonte made contact, and Waltrip swooped in to seize the lead. He had gone 309 winless points-race starts to that point, but he didn't care. "I got a cool trophy and a whole lot of money," he said, "so they can say what they want."
7. Brother vs. brother
A Busch brother so often finds himself in the center of the action at the All-Star Race -- but in 2007, it was both of them. Kurt was second with 18 laps remaining when Kyle attempted a pass low into Turn 1, but his car bobbled up into Kurt's and spun sideways. Throwing a shower of sparks, Kyle's car slid backward up toward the wall, and clipped the back end of his brother's vehicle. In an instant, both had wrecked cars and were out of the race. "That boy's got a lot of talent, if only he could harness it," TV announcer Mike Joy said of Kyle. "I won't be eating Kellogg's anytime soon," added Kurt, referring to his brother's car sponsor at the time.
6. Rain and a restart
The event's exhibition status loomed large over the 2001 edition, which featured one of the more bizarre starts and strangest twists in the history of the race. Rusty Wallace led the field to green just as rain began to fall, and a quarter-lap later cars were going sideways on a surprisingly slickened track -- among them, the No. 24 of Jeff Gordon, which spun, was hit by Waltrip, and came to rest in the infield grass. Since no laps had been completed, NASCAR allowed those with damage to move to backup cars. "I didn't even know we could do that," Gordon said later. Nobody did. But Gordon took advantage, going on to record an unlikely third career victory in the event.
5. Roar of the T-Rex
Ray Evernham claims it was legal, and perhaps it was. It passed pre-race inspection, after all. But regardless, the car Gordon drove to win the 1997 all-star event was so ahead of its time it was banned from any future use, and led NASCAR to revise the rule book. The product of former crew chief Evernham and ace Hendrick Motorsports engineer Rex Stump, "T-Rex," -- so called because of the "Jurassic Park" roller coaster paint scheme featuring a tyrannosaur on the hood -- was indeed a monster, helping Gordon to win every segment and cruise to a dominant victory. Other owners grumbled, and eventually Evernham was told to never bring the car to the track again. Just like its namesake, the vehicle would quickly become extinct.
4. Earnhardt moment
Dale Earnhardt Jr. used to watch The Winston from the condo his family owned at the Charlotte track. In 2000, he became the first rookie to win it, taking four tires on a late pit stop and blowing past Dale Jarrett on Lap 69 of 70. "We didn't come here to run second," Earnhardt Jr. said that night, in what's since become a calling card for the event. But more memorable than the race itself was the scene in Victory Lane, with Dale Earnhardt -- who had finished third -- embracing his son and the two of them wearing wide smiles on their faces. The significance of that moment was magnified nine months later, when the elder Earnhardt was lost in the Daytona 500. But that one instant in Charlotte still resonates, even today.
3. Wallace vs. Waltrip
It was a heavyweight bout to rival anything in Las Vegas, and the ring was 1.5 miles in circumference. Wallace and Darrell Waltrip traded shots in winning the opening segments of the 1989 event, and then went no-holds-barred at the end. On the final lap, Waltrip took the lead, but couldn't shake Wallace. Rusty went low to pass, made contact, and sent 'ol D.W. spinning through the grass. Hard feelings? "I hope he chokes on the $200,000," Waltrip said, referring to the winner's share at the time. As Wallace rolled toward Victory Lane, he had to pass by a wall of Waltrip crewmen who kicked at his car as he passed. "Half the fans wanted to kill me," Wallace said. Not to mention one rival driver.
2. Pass in the grass
You want rivals? Try Bill Elliott and Dale Earnhardt in 1987, when the former was left fuming after the latter won. As the final segment began, Elliott and Geoffrey Bodine crashed in an incident Elliott blamed on Earnhardt. After the restart, Elliott and Earnhardt made contact one, two, three times -- the last one knocking Earnhardt into the grass, seemingly out of control. But the Intimidator somehow kept the car underneath him, and pulled back ahead of Elliott. Earnhardt edged Terry Labonte to win, but the hard feelings from earlier were still evident when Elliott bumped Earnhardt on pit road, and then pulled ahead of him as he No. 3 tried to get to Victory Lane. "If a man has to run over you to beat you," Elliott steamed, "it's time to stop. I'm sick of it."
1. One hot night
The first all-star race to go under the lights, the 1992 edition not only produced one of the more memorable finishes in the event's history, but also proved night racing at big tracks was possible. The action was furious, with leader Dale Earnhardt spinning to allow then third-place Davey Allison to catch up to Kyle Petty on the final lap. Allison pulled alongside out of Turn 4, and it was a drag race to the checkered -- with neither driver yielding. Allison spun hard into the wall, crossing the finish line first in a shower of sparks, knocking the driver unconscious. As his team received the trophy, Allison was helicoptered to a hospital where he would be diagnosed with a concussion and a bruised lung.
And then there were those lights, which changed NASCAR forever. Until that point, only short tracks had held races at night. Lighting a big track was thought impossible; there were worries of drivers facing glare at 170 mph, of fans having to see past infield light poles. But experimenting at first with mirrors bought from K-Mart, experts at lighting company MUSCO found a way using a reflector system that's still in use today. "The most ingenious lightning system in sports history," former Charlotte track president Humpy Wheeler called it. And what was billed as "One Hot Night" opened the door for many more to come.
FULL SERIES COVERAGE
- Motor Racing
- Sports & Recreation
- Dale Earnhardt
- Robby Gordon