In NASCAR, there really never is an "off-week" so to say. Drivers and teams are constantly testing to find the right combination to make a strong run at a particular track. It's not often that the off-week has a lot of glamor behind it.
To a certain degree, this week is an off-week for the sport, because points are not up for grabs. There's no worrying about a title, nor how many positions are needed to just get into the title picture. This week, it's simply going out on the track, racing for a win, and one huge paycheck.
The NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race has changed a lot since it's first installment in 1985, from segments to inversions, to eligibility. But, the constant is that there's no harm in pushing the limits, trying to make just a bit more gain, but know it's not going to cost positions in the end. At the same time, this race has become an event in itself, with different rules, different setups, and certainly different attitudes.
One thing this race has long been known for is different paint schemes. It's been said that this race was the dawning of the "special paint scheme" for drivers, where they shed the traditional colors for something that is a one-time deal.
It began with Dale Earnhardt's "Silver Bullet" in 1995, and has since then become a race where change is expected. These days, with multiple sponsors, it's not uncommon for teams to run different looks throughout the season. But, in the heyday of NASCAR, a special paint scheme got attention, and definitely would be remembered.
With that in mind, the writers were given an option for this week. With points not on the line, I was asking them to look back and name their favorite, or most memorable, All-Star Race paint scheme, one that was just ran for this race.
Not everyone replied, because it was an option to participate this week, but nearly half the writers decided to hop on board and take a trip down memory lane.
Here's what they chose as their favorite Sprint All-Star Race paint schemes:
Misan Akuya: Kevin Harvick (2004)-Pennzoil Platinum
This required some thought. There have been so many great paint schemes ran in the All-Star race. Perhaps some of the best paint schemes in NASCAR.
But I must go with the Kevin Harvick's Platinum Pennzoil paint scheme that he took to victory lane in this race in 2007.
What a cool looking scheme that was? Silver and slick. Harvick hates Charlotte, but that night he didn't look like he did holding off a hard charging Jimmie Johnson at one of his best tracks. What a thrill it must have been to take that specialty paint scheme into victory circle while collecting a million dollars. That's what the All-Star race is all about. A special night when really cool things happen.
Rob Blount: Dale Earnhardt (1998)-Bass Pro Shops
This may have been one of the most difficult choices I've ever had to make in my life. You can take that one of two ways. You can say "Wow, that's sad," or you can say "Wow, this dude's life is so easy that THIS was the most difficult choice he's ever had to make?"
So I went with the Dale Earnhardt Bass Pro Shops scheme from 1998. I've loved just about every version of the Bass Pro Shop car. It doesn't matter if it's mostly orange like Jamie McMurray's, all black like the versions that Tony Stewart, Austin/Ty Dillon have used, or this version that Earnhardt raced.
A Bass Pro Shops car is always beautiful. It's a shame that Earnhardt crashed in this race. A car that beautiful deserved a better fate.
Kelly Crandall: Jimmie Johnson (2003)-Power of Pride
Patriotic paint schemes always get me, I love this country as much as I love racing. Johnson and Lowe's have run some great red, white and blue cars over the years but this was one was not only beautiful in color but on the track.
This was back when it was still Lowe's Motor Speedway and Johnson owned the track in his Lowe's Chevy. During Charlotte race weeks in 2003 though, he really did own the place.
Johnson finished second in the first segment and seventh in the second, saying he was saving his stuff. With the inversion at the time, Johnson started the third and final segment fourth. When the green flag fell it took him just four laps to find the lead from teammate Jeff Gordon and he drove away from the field in no time and to Victory Lane for the first of what to date is three All-Star wins.
Billy Fellin: Mark Martin & Jimmie Johnson (2011)-Number Swap
While neither of the paint schemes really blew anyone away in terms of being cutting edge design, I pick these schemes because the schemes forced a change in numbers. How often does that happen?
For one night, Johnson put his usual No. 48 to bed and drove the No. 5 on his door, because of the special Lowe's was running with their credit card. Mark Martin drove an all red Farmer's Insurance car and resurrected the No. 25.
It's memorable because of the number swap and thinking of all the broadcasters and writers (including myself) who had to correct from saying "Johnson in the 48."
Dustin Parks: Jeff Gordon (2004)-Retro Rainbow
There's something about old-school paint schemes that just get me excited. I remember seeing Dale Jr. run the classic Mountain Dew colors in 2008 and love it. Then there's seeing the No. 43 wear the all-Petty blue.
But, when it comes to the All-Star Race, it was Jeff Gordon taking everyone back to when he started in this sport. It was a paint job that got made fun of for nearly a decade, but saw driven to victory lane numerous times.
In 2004, Gordon decided to bring it back, and at the All-Star Challenge (as Nextel was the sponsor), out of the garage came the classic DuPont Automotive Finishes car, sporting the rainbow paint scheme that debuted in 1992.
Sure, the car wasn't as pretty as at the end of the night, but he would finish in the top-10. Still, this paint scheme to me represents the driver that dominated the late-1990s in the sport. He won 52 races in this paint scheme, and three championships. Kinda seems weird to call it his "retro rainbow" car, but for long-time fans, this brings back many memories.
Rob Tiongson: Jeff Gordon (1998)-Chromalusion
Sure, it's the race that Gordon and his crew chief Ray Evernham can laugh about now, but during the 1998 running of the NASCAR All-Star RAce, which was then "The Winston," it was a race they gave away.
During the final segment, Gordon jumped the restart, prompting the officials to negate the attempt and thus causing a second try at the run to the finish. With a legal, clean restart, it was truly Gordon's race to win but then he ran out of fumes, handing the win to Mark Martin.
I'll never forget it for that painful loss but also because of how cool that car looked that night. Truly one of the best paint schemes in ALL of NASCAR history.
Final Thoughts: This race means nothing about the championship, it's all about a trophy. It is the definition of "checkers or wreckers," and has led to many great and infamous moments in the sport's history.
This year, it's five segments totaling 90 laps, and in the end the winner will get a $2 million payday.
Coverage kicks off on SPEED at 7 p.m. with the Sprint Showdown, where the top-two transfer into the main event along with the winner of the 2013 fan vote.