Week in and week out, drivers in NASCAR know that at the end of the day, when that checkered flag waves, the reward to them is both a paycheck and points, with one driver celebrating in victory lane by getting to that flag first. For 36 weeks, it's a run to determine who can make the Chase, who will be eliminated from the Chase, and eventually who will be crowned champion.
But for one week out of the year, the points aspect of the weekend is out the window. There is a bit more freedom in the garage area, with different rules and different procedures, making it a bit more of a fun weekend.
It's NASCAR's version of sprint racing, and it takes place in the area where NASCAR calls home, Charlotte, North Carolina. It's been known by different names and has seen different formats, but it is always a race fans, teams and drivers look forward to when the time comes on the schedule. It's time to go to the Charlotte Motor Speedway and compete for a $1 million pay day in the Sprint All-Star Race.
That kind of pay day will make drivers attempt things they normally would not do in a regular event. Some push the envelope in setups, and others get more aggressive behind the wheel. Having that kind of mentality can often lead to moments that are not forgotten, both in the actual race, or as time goes on. It's not uncommon to have a little controversy come up at this race. Even in the first All-Star Race, then named The Winston, in 1985, eventual winner Darrell Waltrip was driving a Junior Johnson car that had a special engine to run the 70-lap race. The team knew it would run all 70 laps, but after the flag waved it went up in a cloud of smoke.
The Busch brothers had their own run-in with each other in this race that caused a rift that lasted through the end of the year. Only a stern grandmother could make them forgive and move on.
Controversy is not uncommon in this race, and with that in mind some of the writers in the Fan Vs. Fan Victory Pool had the option this week of going outside the norm. With no points on the line, a question was asked about this race and it got their minds working.
Here's a look at what a few of the Pool participants believe is their most controversial moments in the Winston, Winston Select, Nextel All-Star Challenge, or the Sprint All-Star Race (whichever name suits them):
Misan Akuya: The Intentional "Competitive" Spin (The Winston Select-2002)
The one controversy that sticks out in my mind was during the 2002 All-Star Race. It was still the Winston back then. Ryan Newman held off Dale Earnhardt Jr. as a rookie to win. But, Kurt Busch made a move that was quite questionable. The elder Busch wanted a caution. Robby Gordon was in front of him.
So what does he do? He spins out Robby Gordon. Robby recovered to finish seventh. But he was very upset with Busch, who later admitted that he intentionally spun Gordon to
make the race "more competitive." Busch was later fined $25,000 for his actions.
That I have always thought was interesting all these years.
Rob Blount: Pull Out the Backup Cars (The Winston-2001)
This race was the first time we’d ever seen NASCAR allow teams to use back-up cars for an incident that occurred during a race.
So to give a quick explanation of what happened, the race goes green and a bunch of cars crash in turn one because it starts to downpour. Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte, Kevin Harvick and more were involved. NASCAR decided that since it was an exhibition race and the incident was caused by rain that they would allow the teams to get out their back-up cars and race with those. And then of course Gordon, in a back-up car, came through the field and won the race.
As I said, it’s the first (and only) time we’d seen NASCAR allow this. Should it have been allowed? I honestly don’t know. Part of me wants to say yes, because it was an exhibition race and the accident was caused by nature. But part of me wants to say no because it wasn’t normal procedure and it’s also sort of unfair. I say that because if I’m one of the guys that didn’t crash in the rain I’m telling NASCAR “Hey, I held on to it. They should have done the same. They didn’t, they crashed, now they’re out.”
Dustin Parks: Earnhardt Brings Out Aggression in Elliott (The Winston-1987)
I always look back on this race as a day when someone who's normally so calm and so collected behind the wheel broke down a big wall, one that no one believed would happen. This race started when Dale Earnhardt got into Ricky Rudd, causing him to spin, then Bill Elliott gave chase to get the lead. The two would battle so much that they would get together on more than one occasion. It would be the bump on the front stretch that sent Earnhardt's No. 3 Wrangler Monte Carlo into the infield grass but then back onto the track still holding the lead that is most remembered.
Even now, the "Pass In The Grass" remains one of the big moments in this race, right alongside of moments such as "One Hot Night" and "Rookie Reign," but it was after that when the controversy flew.
Elliott himself got angry and he was very stern on Earnhardt for his aggressive driving style in the race, but Earnhardt in victory lane made no apologies for what happened, seeing that he won the race and that was it. Elliott didn't like how Earnhardt won the race, nor how he drove it, and probably to this day still feels the same way. It has always been a race that showed off Earnhardt's unrelenting style, and one that cracked Elliott's cool and collected attitude.
Patti Rodisch: One and Done in NASCAR (The Winston-1997)
Back in 1997 there were not many rules for the All Star race. Teams could bring out of the box setups and push the envelope within reason. Jeff Gordon was a weekly contender but when Rex Stump, engineer at Hendrick Motorsports, built Gordon’s car for just the All-Star Race it changed the race and the sport forever.
“T-Rex” as it was known dominated the race with its custom suspension and floor pans. The chassis was completely legal as was every part on the car. Ray Evernham said back in 2007, "That car had no cheating on it," said Evernham, then Gordon's crew chief at Hendrick Motorsports. "That car was built by what the rules were, and it never became
illegal until after The Winston when NASCAR wrote rules to make the car illegal." Quote courtesy of ESPN.
Owners began to complain at the cost of building new cars to keep up with what Hendrick Motorsports had built. NASCAR was forced to act and in doing so changed the sport forever. New rules were added to the rule book that made the gray area far smaller.
NASCAR confiscated the car after the race but after the car made one lap there was really no going back for NASCAR.
Final Remarks: This race is only 90 laps in total, with five different segments. Tonight alone is the Sprint Showdown to determine the final three participants in the main event Saturday night, two from the race and one via the fan vote. Tomorrow alone is a new twist in how things are set up as qualifying is held directly before the race, with it being three laps and a four-tire stop. It is one of, if not the, most unique events NASCAR puts on each year.
But, will there be controversy, or will there be arguments. Someone is walking away with a big paycheck when the checkered flag waves.
Find out who at 8:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1.