This weekend, Charlotte Motor Speedway will host the 35th running of the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star race. The annual event has been one of the favorites among the fans and has produced memorable moments dating back to when Darrell Waltrip went to Victory Lane in the inaugural race in 1985.
Charlotte has held the event every year with the exception of 1986 when it moved to Atlanta Motor Speedway. That event saw Bill Elliott lead 82 of 83 laps en route to taking home $240,000 when he defeated Dale Earnhardt by nearly three seconds in the 10-driver field.
One of the most memorable All-Star moments came in the third running of the special event with seven laps to go. Earnhardt was battling with Elliott when contact was made on the frontstretch, sending Earnhardt off into the grass. With some masterful driving, Earnhardt was able to jump right back on the track and remain the leader. Two laps later, Elliott was knocked out of contention with a blown tire and Earnhardt went on to take the victory, 0.74 seconds ahead of Terry Labonte.
In 1988, Labonte battled back from a one-lap deficit to take the victory. In the final segment, Labonte moved from sixth to second in the first lap and went on to take the $200,000 prize. The victory was the first of two for Labonte in the All-Star race, with the second coming in 1999.
Waltrip and Rusty Wallace provided some fireworks in 1989 when Wallace made contact with Waltrip in Turn 4 heading to the white flag. Waltrip ended up spinning off the track to a seventh-place finish, while Wallace went on to win the race. Afterward, both drivers and teams had words for each other.
Earnhardt returned to Victory Lane in 1990 after leading the entire race to become the first multiple winner of the All-Star race. He would go on to win the event one more, in 1993.
After winning in 1991, Davey Allison made it back-to-back victories with a dramatic finish in 1992, which marked the first race under the lights. On the final lap, Earnhardt and Kyle Petty were racing hard together and as the two got close in Turn 3, Earnhardt’s No. 3 Chevrolet went spinning. Allison took advantage of the spin and with Petty checking up, chased him down to narrowly finish ahead of Petty’s No. 42 Pontiac. Unfortunately, Allison wasn’t able to celebrate the win because he was taken to the hospital after crashing into the wall as he crossed the line when the two cars came together.
In 1994, Geoffrey Bodine – racing on Hoosier Tires – became the first owner/driver to win the All-Star race after he defeated Sterling Marlin. Bodine won $250,000 for his No. 7 Exide Batteries Ford team.
Jeff Gordon got the first of his three All-Star wins in 1995, but the most memorable one came in 1997 when he won the event driving the “Jurassic Park the Ride” car, which is among the most legendary racecars in NASCAR history for its revolutionary chassis design.
“I think it’s pretty obvious. The Jurassic Park win, all three stages,” Gordon said about his favorite All-Star moment. “I guess maybe not obvious because we won it the one year where we had the back-up car (2001) after the wreck in the first corner. But to me personally, it was the Jurassic Park car that we had. Going out there and dominating that event, winning all three segments, is something that you don’t see very often.”
Michael Waltrip, who was driving the No. 21 Ford for the Wood Brothers, made history in 1996 when he became the first driver to win the All-Star race by transferring in from a preliminary qualifying race.
“It was a great night to be able to celebrate with the Wood Brothers,” Waltrip said. “I remember when Eddie (Wood) and Len (Wood) and Glen (Wood) and Leonard (Wood) handed their car over to me. I thought that was a big deal and they trusted me with the family car – I didn’t get a lot of that when I was a kid. For them to do that and for me to be able to go out there and perform and win the All-Star race for them and us as a team was just one of the highlights of my career.”
In 1998, Mark Martin won his first of two All-Star races after Gordon ran out of fuel on the final lap. Martin’s second win came in 2005 when he piloted a retro paint scheme to Victory Lane.
“Winning back in 2005, I have great memories of that night,” Martin said. “I was driving a throwback paint scheme, which I love doing, and it was one of my last wins in the No. 6 car. That was just a great night.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. joined his father as the only father-son combination to win the All-Star race after he took the checkered flag in the 2000 edition. Earnhardt won by 1.3 seconds over Dale Jarrett to claim a little over $516,000 in winnings.
In 2002, Ryan Newman became the second rookie to win the All-Star race after he held of Earnhardt Jr. for the victory.
“We beat everybody on a given night in our backyard, not racing for points but racing for glory and money and it was a great win for us,” Newman said. “We weren’t even expected to be in the race. We raced our way in, got the invert and walked away with it for a while there. It was a close finish at the end with (Dale) Earnhardt Jr. It was just a great team victory and that’s what we’re here for as a team and as an organization, is to put those events together and that always doesn’t happen like that. In an All-Star race, it’s that much more pride.”
Jimmie Johnson won his first of a record four All-Star races in 2003 and became the first driver to win more than $1 million in the race. Johnson also won in 2006 and 2012. His last win came after he led his only laps, all 10 in the final segment, to win by 1.722 seconds over Joey Logano.
In 2004, the fan vote element was added to the race and Ken Schrader was voted into the All-Star race. Schrader would go on to finish 13th behind race winner Matt Kenseth, who won his first All-Star race.
Kenseth appeared poised to win again in 2007, but a pit road speeding penalty relegated him to a seventh-place finish. Kevin Harvick took over the lead on lap 61 and never looked back en route to his first of two All-Star wins.
In 2008, Kasey Kahne became the first driver to win the All-Star race by virtue of the fan vote. Kahne held off a hard-charging Greg Biffle in the final 25-lap segment of the 100-lap event to pick up the win.
The winning move came on pit road during the stop before the fourth and final segment. Kahne did not take tires to gain track position and that move paved the way to Victory Lane.
In 2009, Tony Stewart passed Kenseth with two laps to go in the final segment to score his first career win as an owner/driver and first in the All-Star race.
In 2010, Kurt Busch bounced back from hitting the wall and went on to win his first All-Star race in his ninth start in the event. Busch took advantage of misfortune that fell on younger brother Kyle, and had to survive a rash of late-race restarts to put the No. 2 Team Penske Dodge in Victory Lane.
Following the win, Busch went on to become the seventh driver to sweep the All-Star race and Coca-Cola 600 in the same season.
The 2011 season saw Carl Edwards hold off Kyle Busch for the win. Edwards led a total of 29 laps, including all 10 in the final segment en route to the win in the 27th annual event. After taking the checkered flag, Edwards heavily damaged the front end of his car when he spun across the infield grass to celebrate the victory.
In 2014, Jamie McMurray took the checkered flag in the All-Star Race, adding to his resume that includes a Daytona 500 win, a Brickyard 400 win and two wins in the Charlotte fall race.
“It’s so much different than winning the Daytona 500 or the Brickyard because there are no points, and I think the mentality going into that last segment is just all or nothing,” McMurray said. “That was my thought process. I am like, I don’t really care if we wreck, I don’t care what happens, I’m racing for a million dollars.”
Denny Hamlin won in 2015 after a fast pit stop before the final segment. The win was not only Hamlin’s first in the race, but it was also the first for Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota.
In 2016, Logano won the All-Star Race when he led a Team Penske 1-2 finish with his teammate Keselowski in second.
In 2017, Kyle Busch became the 23rd different winner of the All-Star Race – first under the Monster Energy sponsorship. Busch, who was making his 12th start in the All-Star Race, was able to move into the final 10-lap stage thanks to the average finish he put together in the opening three stages. When the green flag flew to start the final stage, Busch dropped to the low side of the track and was able to muscle his way around Keselowski and Johnson for the top spot. Once he got in front, Busch was able to drive away to score the $1 million payday. With the win, Busch joined his brother Kurt as a winner of the All-Star Race. Michael and Darrell were the first brothers to win the special event.
The 2017 race also saw an “option” tire for teams to use. The strategies on when to use the softer option tire in concert with the three sets of primes the teams were given created some intrigue. Some opted to use them early in stages one and two while others waited until later. Clint Bowyer tried using a loophole and had option tires along with a pair of primes, but that didn’t really make a difference. Generally speaking the option tires provided short bursts of speed but their use was negligible in the outcome of the race.
Last season, Harvick became the seventh driver to score multiple wins in the All-Star Race. The race featured a new competition package and help lead to the current 550 horsepower rules package used in 2019.
On Saturday night, Harvick will be looking to join Allison (1991-92) and Johnson (2012-13) as the only drivers to win consecutive All-Star Races, an event that will feature another new competition rules package with technical elements that could give a look into the future of the the Gen-7 car.
Motor Racing Network’s live coverage of Saturday’s Monster Energy Open and All-Star Race will begin at 5:30 p.m. ET.