Skip to main content

Ranking the greatest All-Star Races

Carl Edwards hit Victory Lane in last year's All-Star Race.

Carl Edwards hit Victory Lane in last year's All-Star Race.

It's billed as NASCAR meets the Wild West.

This year's All-Star Race commercial features Carl Edwards, Mark Martin, Paul Menard and Tony Stewart -- each of whom are given a gunslinger nickname, though only one gets a horrendously bad fake mustache -- playing cards before a cheating allegation leads to guns being drawn.

Deadwood or Dodge City it's not, but when the stars descend on Charlotte Motor Speedway, it is a shootout unlike any in the sport. There are no points, no cautious approaches, and with the checkered flag comes a million dollar payday. It's every man for himself.

"It's a race where we can just go, let it all hang out, have some fun and not worry about any points. We're just going for the win in each segment and hopefully [we] get to Victory Lane," said Edwards, the defending winner.

It isn't perfect -- a year ago we used this space to detail what's wrong with the event and how to fix it -- but you could argue that it rivals MLB for the best All-Star showcase. You can't fake the effort or the drama that can come with a winner-take-all dash for the cash.

"Anytime they put that much money in front of anybody it's going to cause things to rise to another level," said Kevin Harvick. "Take the points away from that and you really have some unique scenarios that come up."

To which history can attest. Since Darrell Waltrip claimed the inaugural race in 1985 there have been plenty of memorable moments in this event. Here is the Racing Fan's countdown of the five best All-Star Races -- or The Winston as it was known before 2004 -- plus the pick for Saturday night's edition:

5. Kyle Busch Goes Off (2010)

Teammates? Not when there's $1 million on the line.

Denny Hamlin was leading during the final segment, a 10-lap shootout, when his fellow Joe Gibbs Racing bannerman was closing in. Hamlin blocked Busch as he made a move on the outside with eight laps remaining, sending Busch's No. 18 into the wall.

Four laps later, Busch blew a tire and wrecked, and believing he would have gone onto the victory, launched into the following tirade over his radio.

"Somebody better keep me away from Denny Hamlin after this race," Busch screamed. "I swear to God, I'm going to kill that [expletive]. His entire [expletive] fault! I had this race won! It was won!"

Busch eventually made his way into the garage area and parked his No. 18 in front of Hamlin's hauler before entering for a 20-minute sit down with Hamlin and team owner Joe Gibbs.

The win went to Kurt Busch, but it was his little brother who stole the show.

4. The Earnhardts' Moment (2000)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. became the first rookie to win the race and then followed it up with a celebration that over time has become a bittersweet memory.

Junior hit the wall during the opening segment, but recovered and found himself in third when the caution flag came out during the race's last leg. He opted to pit, taking four fresh tires, and with eight laps remaining made his move, tracking down second-place Jerry Nadeau before passing Dale Jarrett on the final lap.

But the lasting image, of course, is of a father and son, as Earnhardt Jr. was joined by his father and team owner, Dale Sr., in Victory Lane. Dale Sr. would die in 2001 after a Sprint Cup win.

"That win here in the All-Star Race was, and still is, the favorite moment of my career --being in Victory Lane with my dad," Junior said. "The wins that I had before, he would come in and shake everybody's hand and take off. That was the only Victory Lane that he stood in the entire time."

3. The Tide Slide (1989)

"I hope he chokes on the $200,000. That's all I can tell him," Waltrip would say after this run in with that year's winner, Rusty Wallace.

The two had traded wins on the first two segments and when Waltrip took the lead on the final restart with two laps to go, Wallace was right with him.

Wallace went low to get around Waltrip, and as he did he made contact with the left rear of Waltrip's car, sending his Tide-sponsored Chevrolet spinning across the infield grass.

Members of Waltrip's crew were waiting for Wallace as he made his way to Victory Lane and kicked his car as he passed.

"Half the fans wanted to kill me," Wallace said. "The place was upside down. The whole infield was in a fight."

When reporters caught up with Wallace and asked if he considered it clean racing, Wallace replied: "I consider this The Winston."

2. One Hot Night (1992)

H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler's move to make the event a prime-time affair to take advantage of CMS' new lighting system produced a finish that rivals any running, one that the track president and his associates would so fittingly dub "One Hot Night."

Earnhardt Sr. had the lead on the last lap with Kyle Petty and Davey Allison close behind. Petty went low, attempting to take the lead, and when Earnhardt made a move to block Petty, his No. 3 spun out and he hit the wall, leaving Petty and Allison to duel for the win.

"I wish I would have won the race, but I ain't going to kick and scream about it," Earnhardt said that night. "Kyle was trying to win and I was, too. I'm not going to be mad about it.

"He went into the corner and tried to take what was his. That's all there was to it -- good, hard racing. Kyle and I were just racing for it. He just took a little more than I wanted to give."

Allison pulled past Petty just before they reached the finish line and the two made contact, sending Allison sailing into the wall. It wasn't until later, while he was in the infield medical center, that Allison found out that he had won.

1. The Pass In The Grass (1987)

OK, so it wasn't technically a pass, but the move and its catchy nickname have become part of the Earnhardt Sr. legend and All-Star Race lore.

At the beginning of the final 10-lap segment, Bill Elliott and Geoffrey Bodine wrecked, giving way for Earnhardt to take the lead. Elliott blamed the wreck on Dale Sr., and after the restart the two made contact several times.

On the third lap they collided coming out of Turn 4 and Earnhardt was pushed out onto the grass on the infield. But he amazingly maintained control and pulled back ahead of Elliott.

"Bill got me sideways and knocked me into the grass," Earnhardt said. "That got me upset."

Earnhardt retaliated laps later en route to edging Terry Labonte for the win, but the real fireworks came post race as Elliott hit Earnhardt on the cool-down lap and then moved in front of Earnhardt on pit road as he was headed toward Victory Lane. Elliott also didn't mince words about his thoughts on Dale Sr.'s style.

"We're not kids," Elliott said. "We're not Saturday-night wrestlers. We're racers. The thing of it is, he liked to wreck me and several others on the track. ... If a man has to run you over to beat you, it's time to stop. I'm sick of it."

All-Star Race Pick

Jimmie Johnson. He's always been a force at Charlotte, with his eight combined wins (six points races and two All-Star events), which ties Jeff Gordon for the most of any current driver. And he's been on a roll, coming in sixth or better in four of the last five events, including a win at Darlington that ended Hendrick Motorsports' wait for its 200th win. Look for him to add a third All-Star Race victory, which would equal the record shared by Earnhardt Sr. and Gordon, and become $1 million richer.