Less than two weeks before the NASCAR Sprint All Star Race returns to the high banks of Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 16, several of the sport’s past and present legends were at the iconic 1.5-mile tri-oval to share their favorite memories of the biggest all-star event in sports and celebrate the race’s historic upcoming 30th anniversary.
The winningest Sprint All-Star Race driver/crew chief combo of Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus joined NASCAR Hall Of Famer Rusty Wallace and driver, team owner and NASCAR analyst Michael Waltrip to set the stage for what has always proven to be a no-holds-barred thrill show under the lights with no points and a $1 million payday on the line.
“They’re still talking about when I won it,” Wallace said, referencing his 1989 victory that was highlighted by the now-infamous Tide Slide. “Every single year I come back here, the phone’s ringing off the hook. They want to talk about that spin-to-win. It really set a mark. There’s so much excitement and so much talk about that particular race that I won over Darrell (Waltrip) and how it happened and all the controversy.”
In 1996, it was Waltrip’s chance to shine. Waltrip recorded his first win with Wood Brothers Racing after transferring in from the Sprint Showdown.
“When (the Wood Brothers) gave me the opportunity to drive their car, everybody that had ever driven for them had won, and I looked forward to that pressure,” Waltrip said. “I couldn’t wait to get them to Victory Lane. To do it in the All-Star Race and the way we did it – we started from the back after transferring through the preliminary event and raced all the way to the front. To be able to win the race, and to beat those great champions, that was a big night.
“There’s a beautiful trophy sitting in my living room right now that will live there forever. I’m very happy about being an All-Star champion and sharing that with Rusty and Jimmie and all the famous guys that won it before me.”
In 2013, Johnson eclipsed Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon to become the all-time winningest driver in All-Star Race history with four wins. Given the race’s unique format and the quality of the competition, Johnson said it’s always a special achievement to hoist the All-Star trophy.
“Without a doubt you know that you beat the best of the best,” he said. “With the varying strategies that take place and the segments and how many laps and all the different things we’ve had over the years, there hasn’t been one set path to get there. It’s a very rewarding night, a night the team really enjoys. There’s a different atmosphere with the pressure being off and a million reasons to have fun after.”
Being the home track for most of NASCAR’s top teams, Knaus said racing in Charlotte creates a unique atmosphere that teams rarely experience. And the added element of mandatory pit stops makes an All-Star win truly a team effort.
“It’s a lot of fun, obviously,” he said. “Everybody gets very amped up to come out here to Charlotte for the All-Star Race. You have to, not only for qualifying, perform well on pit road, but then to set your starting order for that last segment. Back in 2013, we actually came in second or third for that pit stop and the guys had a fantastic pit stop. We left pit road first and ended up winning that last race.”
Officials also announced that Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Chase Elliott, who is running a limited NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule this year before moving into a full-time ride next season, will compete in the Sprint Showdown, ushering in a new era of future All-Stars.
“From a NASCAR perspective, this race always signifies the launch of our summer season,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer. “The sign said it earlier – it’s the biggest all-star event in all of pro sports. This is the best of the best from a NASCAR perspective.”
During the event, Charlotte Motor Speedway President and General Manager also announced that food icon and restauranteur Guy Fieri will serve as Grand Marshal and Honorary Pace Car driver for the event.
“I don’t know if he’s going to cook anything for us – I hope he will – but I know he’s going to have fun with that,” Smith said. “Hopefully he’ll come off the track. When he gets behind the wheel of that pace car, he may want to stay out there for a few laps.”
The $99 NASCAR Sprint All Star Race ticket package includes frontstretch tickets for the N.C Education Lottery Camping World Truck Series race and Sprint Showdown on Friday, May 15; plus the no-speed-limit NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race qualifying, a rocking pre-race concert with country mega-group Little Big Town, presented by Rayovac, and capped off with a blockbuster shootout for $1 million at the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race on Saturday, May 16.
Tickets can be purchased online, or by calling 1-800-455-FANS (3267).