NEXTEL All-Star Challenge Celebrates 20th Year
The event started as a simple concept with a goal of bringing added attention to a sport that was struggling to expand from its Southeastern roots.
Plans for a NASCAR all-star race were announced in December 1984 at the NASCAR Winston Cup Awards Ceremony in New York City. The race, introduced as The Winston, would run the day before the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May and would feature only the sport¿s top stars. The winner would take home $200,000, an unprecedented amount at the time.
Those in attendance at the New York banquet had no idea they were being introduced to a race that would evolve into the largest all-star event in professional sports. This year, the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge will pay the winner $1 million and attract more than 150,000 fans to Lowe¿s Motor Speedway.
The race¿s unique format has generated many of the most memorable moments in the sport¿s history. It¿s a race where no one remembers who finished second.
1985: Darrell Waltrip came from three seconds behind to earn the $200,000 victory despite exploding an engine as he crossed the finish line.
¿I don¿t know if anybody knew it or not, the motor absolutely exploded when we took the checkered flag,¿ Waltrip said. ¿The boys told me all along not to run it any harder than I had to because it wasn¿t going to run long.¿
1986: Bill Elliott led all but one lap of the event at Atlanta Motor Speedway, saying, ¿I was bound and determined to do well, even if he had to drive like it was a dirt track race.¿
1987: Back in Charlotte, Dale Earnhardt posted a controversial victory after bumping incidents with Bill Elliott and Geoff Bodine. The contact with Elliott sent Earnhardt through the infield grass without losing the lead. Tempers flared after the race.
¿Ernie (Elliott) walked right up to me and said, ¿That¿s really chicken s***,¿ said Earnhardt¿s car owner Richard Childress. ¿I told him if he wanted to keep his face looking the way it did now, he better get the hell out of my pit stall.¿
Bill Elliott was less pleased. ¿A lot of things were going on when the green flag dropped,¿ Elliott said of a restart with a few laps remaining. ¿Earnhardt cut me off there, and he cut me off again. Then he ends up almost running me into the wall. That ended up knocking the fender in and cutting the tire down. He hit me several times. If a man has to run over you to beat you, it¿s time for this stuff to stop. What he did wasn¿t right. When a man pulls over and lets you by and then tries to run you into the wall, I¿d say that was done deliberately. I¿ve been beat on at Watkins Glen, Talladega and here by one car, Earnhardt¿s. If somebody doesn¿t do something about this, we¿re coming back next week and we¿ll see what happens.¿
¿This whole deal is between me and Bill, and it has nothing to do with our teams,¿ Earnhardt said. ¿We knocked each other around, but it¿s all over now as far as I am concerned. But if Bill still wants to do something about it, then I¿ll stand flat-footed with him any day.¿
1988: Terry Labonte won after his Junior Johnson team set his car up for the final 10-lap segment. He started sixth on the final restart and took only two laps to take the lead.
¿I don¿t know how I got there,¿ Labonte said. ¿All I know is I had to get to the front, and I didn¿t have much time to do it.¿
1989: Rusty Wallace nudged leader Darrell Waltrip as the pair raced to the white flag, sending Waltrip spinning and Wallace to victory lane.
¿It was an ugly, ugly win,¿ Waltrip chirped. ¿I hope he chokes on the $200,000, that¿s all I can tell him. He knocked the hell out of me.¿
¿We just ran out of room,¿ Wallace replied. ¿I got under him and we touched. I backed out of the throttle and he spun. I didn¿t intentionally hit him.¿
Waltrip, however, wasn¿t finished talking.
¿A lot of guys let greed overcome speed, and that¿s what happened today. I got spun out. A guy drove down underneath me and drove up into me and spun me out. It was blatant. I had him pretty well covered. I just didn¿t want to make a mistake, but I guess I made one, letting him get up there.¿
1990: Dale Earnhardt led every lap to bank $325,000.
¿(Ken) Schrader told me after the race, ¿If I¿d caught you, I¿d have knocked you,¿¿ Earnhardt said. ¿But I have a steering wheel, too. This is the kind of race I wanted to win. We were the best team here and there is no controversy. Nobody is mad.¿
¿We ran second to the black car,¿ Ken Schrader said. ¿We don¿t like to run second to the black car.¿
1991: Davey Allison led all 70 laps in Robert Yates¿ Ford after NASCAR instituted a rule change the week before the race which allowed Ford competitors to raise the rear decks of their cars by a full inch.
¿No wonder Davey is so fast,¿ said Pontiac crew chief Gary Nelson (now NASCAR¿s managing director of competition). ¿Why doesn¿t anyone tell me about these rule changes. I¿d say the change is worth maybe an extra 10th of a second a lap, and that¿s a bunch.¿
1992: With the race run at night under the lights for the first time, Davey Allison won by a few feet as he and Kyle Petty crashed their way to the checkered flag, with Allison spending the night in the hospital with a concussion.
¿The wreck at the end was just as much my fault as it was his,¿ Petty said. ¿We were leaning on each other. I tried to chop him off, but if I had cut across in front of him, I would have ended up in the infield. At the end, he cut on me as I would have on him. We clipped when we came across the line.¿
Dale Earnhardt was also involved in the wild racing, which led to the last-lap crash.
¿I can¿t wait until next year,¿ Earnhardt said. ¿I turned Kyle down where he was dragging and sparking. He went into the corner and tried to take what was his. That¿s all there was to it¿good, hard racing. That¿s what it¿s all about. It was the last lap.¿
1993: Dale Earnhardt prevailed after a controversial restart with just two laps remaining saw him jump the start, which was then called back, giving him a second chance to pass Mark Martin for the victory.
¿I feel sorry for Mark,¿ said Darrell Waltrip. ¿We were told in the drivers¿ meeting before the race that all normal race procedures would be in effect. But they have to have a controversial finish, even if they have to make one.¿
¿Ask Ernie Irvan what they do when you jump the restart,¿ Martin said. ¿I thought it was over when I received the yellow and white flag, but I don¿t make the rules.¿
¿Dale Earnhardt came in here with a gun and stole $200,000. When I jumped the field at Sears Point, they sent me to the back,¿ Irvan complained. ¿It wasn¿t any of this ¿if you do it again.¿ When did they start giving second chances?
¿It really gets me that somebody can get away with all this stuff and nothing ever gets done about it. If anybody else flinches they get their hand slapped.¿
1994: As a tire war flared between Goodyear and Hoosier, Geoffrey Bodine held off Sterling Marlin to win an accident-strewn event. Bodine, riding on Hoosier tires, was involved in an early accident, but rebounded to win the race, which saw Dale Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace among those involved in accidents.
¿I got tapped from behind by Sterling,¿ Bodine said of his off-course excursion. ¿Luckily, nobody ran over me. I spun down on the grass and broke a couple of fender braces, but we fixed those between races.¿
1995: Jeff Gordon avoided a multi-car accident and won The Winston; however, tempers flared among those not as lucky as the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet.
¿We drove into turn one hard and Darrell (Waltrip) kind of took the air off me,¿ Gordon said. ¿Then Dale came on strong and they both went by me. I was caught in the middle and it wasn¿t looking good going down the backstretch. After they wrecked, I had to worry about Sterling.¿
¿I got clear of Jeff,¿ Waltrip said. ¿And Dale came up and he just kept coming and coming and coming and finally it broke loose. Then bam! He was going to run me out of room and I guess he thought I would lift. Guess what? He was wrong. Maybe I should have backed off and let Dale dive up in front of me, but you can¿t do that in The Winston.¿
Jimmy Spencer and Ken Schrader were involved in an accident early in the race.
¿I appreciate all R.J. Reynolds does for racing,¿ said Schrader. ¿But those people have got to wake up and look at that idiot they have in their car. He (Spencer) ain¿t doing them no good.¿
Replied Spencer, ¿You mess with the bull and you get the horns.¿
1996: It wasn¿t a points race, but Michael Waltrip¿s first Winston Cup victory was still as sweet as it gets. Waltrip started 20th in the field and stole the victory from the competition.
¿I wasn¿t in the minds of many, mine included,¿ Waltrip said. ¿I don¿t think I ever told anyone I would come here and win this thing. If I did, I lied.¿
It was a collision between Dale Earnhardt and Terry Labonte in turn one that opened the door for Waltrip.
¿You don¿t want to talk to him right now. Nobody does,¿ said Labonte¿s car owner, Rick Hendrick. ¿I¿ve never seen him this upset. Earnhardt took him out. Earnhardt just moved up the track and hit him.¿
1997: Jeff Gordon dominated the event driving a specially designed Hendrick Motorsports chassis dubbed ¿T-Rex,¿ as the car featured a paint scheme promoting the Jurassic Park movie. Gordon had to pass Terry Labonte to take the lead.
¿Terry drove into the third turn harder than I¿ve ever seen anyone drive in there, but we got the bite coming down the straightaway,¿ Gordon said. ¿Once we passed Terry, I knew the car felt good and there was no way anyone was going to catch me.¿
Though legal, NASCAR told crew chief Ray Evernham to never bring the unique car back to the track.
1998: Jeff Gordon ran out of gas on the final lap and Mark Martin drove to victory.
¿I¿m afraid to say it, but we ran out of gas,¿ Gordon said. ¿It¿s embarrassing. I don¿t know exactly how, but we ran out of fuel. We had an awesome car tonight. At the white flag it started sputtering and I saw Mark (Martin) coming and I pulled over and said, ¿here you go, Mark.¿¿
¿I saw him slow and I know I¿m pretty stupid because I forget a lot, but I knew it was the white flag and not the checkered flag,¿ Martin said. ¿I saw him slow and I said he¿s going to slow and make this a show, and he never started going again.¿
1999: A four-tire pit stop late in the race propelled Terry Labonte to victory after a side-by-side battle with rookie Tony Stewart in a race plagued by a pair of multi-car accidents.
¿I hope he didn¿t take it personally because he was pretty upset when we went down the backstretch,¿ Stewart said. ¿He was showing me how upset he was. I honestly didn¿t run him up there on purpose. I¿m still a rookie.¿
2000: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. rose from the shadows with a late charge from mid-pack to win the race in his rookie season aboard the No. 8 owned by his father.
¿This is really a special night for me,¿ the young Earnhardt said. ¿I¿ll never forget tonight and I¿ll never forget how proud I am of the team. You get up there on stage with your dad and a lot of realizations come into play and come into mind, a lot of flashbacks of old times.¿
2001: Jeff Gordon posted his third victory in NASCAR¿s all-star race¿driving a back-up car. Gordon¿s primary No. 24 Chevrolet was among several cars damaged when a rain shower drenched turn one just moments after the green flag. Teams were allowed to repair or replace their damaged cars while the track was dried.
¿When I walked out of the infield care center from that first-lap wreck, my neck was a little stiff,¿ Gordon said after leading the final nine laps. ¿But when I saw how hard the guys at Hendrick Motorsports were working on getting the back-up car ready, it inspired me.
¿When we went down in turn one before the start, it was dry and we all said the track was OK,¿ Gordon noted. ¿Then we went in there at speed and it was raining.¿
2002: Rookie Ryan Newman earned the final starting spot in the 27-car field and held off a late charge from Dale Earnhardt Jr. to claim the $794,326 first-place prize.
¿That was just good, hard racing,¿ Newman said about his battle with Earnhardt Jr. ¿He had four tires that were fresher than mine, and that makes a big difference. He caught me with about two laps to go, cut underneath me a couple of times but couldn¿t complete the pass. We had to work hard for everything tonight.¿
2003: Jimmie Johnson learned from his mistakes in the 2002 race and became the first driver to earn more than $1 million for winning the annual all-star event. He was nearly a full second ahead of Kurt Busch at the checkered flag.
¿We learned a lot winning those first two segments last year,¿ said Johnson. ¿We made sure we would be caught up in the inversion in some way that would benefit us. Chad Knaus and this entire race team did a great job. Winning at Lowe¿s Motor Speedway with the Lowe¿s Power of Pride Chevrolet, this is just an incredible night for us.¿
The next chapter in the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge will be written Saturday night, May 22, and tickets start at just $21. Tickets can be obtained by calling 1-800-455-FANS.