10 Historic NASCAR All-Star Races
by Tom Jensen May 19, 2023
The NASCAR All-Star race heads to North Wilkesboro for the first time and brings plenty of history with it.
Sunday night’s NASCAR All-Star Race will mark the first time Cup Series cars have raced at the historic North Wilkesboro Speedway since 1996.
Located in the heart of North Carolina moonshine territory, the 0.625-mile North Wilkesboro oval staged its first race on May 18, 1947, nearly a year before NASCAR was founded. And between 1949 and 1996, it hosted 93 Cup Series races, 15 of which were won by NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty (Class of 2010).
The NASCAR All-Star Race came along a little later than North Wilkesboro, with the first event taking place at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1985. Over the years, it’s gone through myriad format changes, name changes and different host tracks.
The one constant, though, is excitement. Ever since the first race in 1985, the all-star event has produced great racing, fierce competition and unpredictable outcomes. And with a purse that’s grown from $200,000 for the 1985 winner to more than $1 million today, and with no points on the line, it’s a race where drivers push it to the limit and beyond.
Following are 10 historic and memorable NASCAR All-Star Races, listed chronologically.
1985, Darrell Waltrip
The first NASCAR All-Star race took place at Charlotte Motor Speedway, with just a 12-car field. Harry Gant led late in the race when Hall of Fame team owner Junior Johnson (Class of 2010) got on the radio to berate his driver, Darrell Waltrip (Class of 2012), asking him whether he wanted to win the $200,000 first-place money or the $75,000 that second-place paid. “You better get up on that wheel,” Johnson told Waltrip, who did just that and won the race. Curiously, the motor in Waltrip’s Chevrolet grenaded just as he took the checkered flag. The next day, Waltrip would win the Coca-Cola 600.
1987, Dale Earnhardt
With no points on the line, Dale Earnhardt (Class of 2010) could afford to be aggressive in search of the big check and the bragging rights for winning The Winston. Car owner Richard Childress (Class of 2017) even told Earnhardt “Bring me the trophy or bring me the steering wheel.” The race was rough from the start, with Earnhardt, Bill Elliott (Class of 2015) and Geoff Bodine all trading paint. Coming out of Turn 4 with eight laps to go, leader Earnhardt got sideways and slid into the infield tri-oval with Elliott on his tail. Although Earnhardt didn't actually pass anyone with this move, the phrase "pass in the grass" was born and quickly became legend.
1989, Rusty Wallace
Rarely does a single race change a driver’s reputation, but the 1989 running of The Winston did just that for Hall of Famers Darrell Waltrip (Class of 2012) and Rusty Wallace (Class of 2013). Waltrip came into the race as a polarizing figure because of his willingness to stir up controversy. With two laps left in the race, Waltrip was leading when he got dumped by Wallace, who went on to win. The two crews brawled on pit road after the race and Waltrip uttered the famous line, “I hope he (Wallace) chokes on the $200,000 (prize money).” Instantly, Waltrip went from being thought of as a bad guy to a sympathetic character.
1992, Davey Allison
Billed as "One Hot Night," the 1992 NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway was the first superspeedway race run at night, thanks to a new $1.7 million lighting system installed at the 1.5-mile track. On the last lap, Dale Earnhardt (Class of 2010) led going into Turn 3, but got turned by Kyle Petty. Coming to the checkered flag, Petty led, but Davey Allison (Class 2019) dove underneath him. At the start-finish line, Allison edged Petty for the victory, but the two cars made contact and Allison crashed hard into the frontstretch wall. The impact knocked Allison out, and he was taken to a local hospital, where he remained overnight for observation. Meanwhile, car owner Robert Yates (Class of 2018) and the team collected the trophy and the check.
1996, Michael Waltrip
No one predicted Michael Waltrip would win NASCAR’s 1996 All-Star Race, then, known as The Winston. Coming into the race Waltrip was winless in 309 premier series starts over parts of 12 seasons. To even make it into the field, Waltrip was the last driver to transfer in from The Winston Open qualifying race. As a result, he started last in the 20-car field for the main event. Inverting the field between stages helped put Waltrip into contention, and when Terry Labonte (Class of 2016) and Dale Earnhardt (Class of 2010) nearly wrecked going for the lead with nine laps to go, Waltrip was there to put the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford out front, a position he would not relinquish.
1997, Jeff Gordon
One of the most famous and controversial NASCAR race cars of all-time was Jeff Gordon's (Class of 2019) “T. Rex” No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, which he drove to victory in the 1997 Sprint All-Star race. Although the car carried “Jurassic Park” sponsorship it was named in honor of chassis designer and engineer Rex Stump, not the dinosaur flick. Despite rumors the car was illegal, crew chief Ray Evernham (Class of 2018) showed the car to NASCAR Winston Cup Director Gary Nelson long before the race. Nelson signed off on the car’s trick suspension, which was optimized for short-run speed. Less than a week after the race, NASCAR banned the T. Rex and its unusual chassis configuration.
2000, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Former Charlotte Motor Speedway President H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler each spring would predict who would win that year’s NASCAR All-Star Race. In 2000, Wheeler infuriated Dale Earnhardt (Class of 2010) by predicting that Earnhardt’s son and rookie premier series driver, Dale Jr. (Class of 2021), would win the race in his first appearance. The elder Earnhardt felt Wheeler’s prognostication put too much pressure on his son. But sure enough, on the final lap of the race, Earnhardt Jr. passed Dale Jarrett (Class of 2014) to win, kicking off a huge family celebration. “I could not wait to see my dad – I remember passing him in that last stage, and that’s something you just dream about,” said Earnhardt Jr. “He was thrilled, so that was a real special moment to spend with him – we just couldn’t believe it.”
2008, Kasey Kahne
Another big all-star upset occurred in 2008, when Kasey Kahne drove a Dodge for Gillett-Evernham Motorsports. Kahne was not pre-qualified for the main event, then called the Sprint All-Star Challenge, so he first had to compete in the preliminary race, the Sprint Showdown, where he started 15th and finished fifth.
But just as it looked as if his night was over, Kahne won the Fan Vote to advance to the main event. Kahne started dead last in the 24-car field, but on Lap 84, he passed Denny Hamlin and held on to lead the final 17 circuits to capture the victory and the $1,012,975 winner’s purse. Eight days later, Kahne would win the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.
2009, Tony Stewart
By the time he joined forces with California industrialist Gene Haas to form Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009, Tony Stewart (Class of 2020) was already an established star and a two-time premier series champion. But in 284 starts over seven seasons, Haas’ former team had no wins and only one top-five finish. Many of Haas’ employees stayed on as SHR was formed, and when Stewart won the 2009 Sprint All-Star Challenge, it was team’s first victory and the first taste of glory for the crewmembers who had toiled so long. Tears flowed freely in Victory Lane after Stewart passed Matt Kenseth (Class of 2023) on the penultimate lap of the race to score the win.
2019, Kyle Larson
Heading into the 2019 NASCAR All-Star Race, Kyle Larson didn’t even have a guaranteed spot in the field for the $1 million-to-win event, so he had to do things the hard way. Starting seventh in the preliminary Monster Energy Open, Larson charged from the lead and held on to win, automatically advancing him to the main event, which that year was called the Monster Energy All-Star Race. A spin by Denny Hamlin brought out a caution, with Larson restarting from sixth place. When the green flag flew, Larson got a huge push from Kevin Harvick and dove into a narrow gap between Kyle Busch and Joey Logano to take a lead he held all the way to victory lane.