Sprint All-Star Race Memory, 1995: Gordon Snookers Earnhardt and Waltrip For Win
It wasn't the most historical all-star race in the past 26 years for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but it was perhaps one of the more memorable for some marquee racers.
The year was 1995, which was the season infamous for Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt's duel for the championship - and in this race, a battle for victory and supremacy.
In some ways, the '95 All-Star race was a microcosm of NASCAR's changing of the guard, in which the good ol' Southern boys were legitimately challenged by "an outsider" who knew how to wheel with the best in the sport.
Earnhardt's car carried its usual No. 3 GM Goodwrench Service liveries, but in a special silver and red paint scheme which commemorated then title sponsor Winston's 25th anniversary in the sport.
With the All-Star races contested at night since 1992, the pride of Kannapolis, NC surely had a catchy Chevy Monte Carlo for the race.
As for Gordon, it was his usual "Rainbow Warrior" machine, which was quite the dominant force for most of the season. Heading into the All-Star race weekend with three victories, Gordon was the odds-on favorite for the win.
Perhaps making him the clear choice for the win was how he boldly predicted that he and his No. 24 team were going to win not only the race, but all three segments of the event.
Per Executive Editor Jeff Owens' SceneDaily.com article, Gordon's crew chief Ray Evernham said, "When he (Gordon) finished, the guys nearly ripped the doors down on the truck getting out."
While it may have seemed like a curious prediction by the Vallejo, CA native, when it came down to the actual race, the 23-year-old backed up his words...with his lead foot.
Starting seventh in the 20-car field, he immediately made his presence known, taking the lead early and pacing the sport's best for 49 of the 70 laps that night, easily taking the first two segments with a car that just seemed hooked up all night long.
Wily veterans Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip, who had a combined total of 151 victories and 10 championships during the date of the race, had other plans in mind for the third and final segment of the All-Star race.
Waltrip, who was winless since 1992, was so determined yet anxious to win a race again, even if it was a non-points event.
In turn, that may have been his undoing to contend for the win, jumping the restart in the last segment. NASCAR promptly aborted the restart and warned Waltrip to not repeat his tactic untilafter the start/finish line.
Like bandits in the night, Earnhardt and Waltrip immediately shot past Gordon in turns one and two on the restart, where it appeared as if the fastest car was surely going to end up a bridesmaid after a dominating performance.
Both racers ran side-by-side heading into turns three and four, as Gordon took his time in the third position for his ultimate shot at the lead.
Instictively, Gordon realized what was just about to unfold in front of him, snookering past the two legendary racers in style.
"I looked ahead as we went into the fourth turn, and I thought, 'There's no way they are going to make it through there,'" Gordon said. "I was behind Dale, and I waited for him to wiggle.
"Sure enough, he did, and the smoke started rolling. That's when I turned left."
Sure, it wasn't "The Pass in the Grass," Davey Allison's head-on crash for the win in '92, or Waltrip's convenient engine failure in the inaugural All-Star Race, but "The Turn Four Left Move" was one for the highlight reels.
Heading into the fourth turn, Earnhardt and Waltrip's cars locked wheels like magnets, sending both drivers veering into the outside retaining wall for a grinding wreck.
Taking the worst of the crash was Waltrip, whose No. 17 Western Auto Chevy had a crunched-in right side and bowed-up front clip.
His crash was so severe that he broke his ribs and required relief racer Jimmy Hensley to run the Coca-Cola 600 during the following weekend.
Their wreck easily paved the way for Gordon's No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet to win the All-Star race with relative ease, defeating Sterling Marlin by 1.07 seconds.
Ricky Rudd, Rusty Wallace, and Geoffrey Bodine rounded out the top-five finishers.
"We focus on big races like this," Gordon said in Victory Lane. "Tonight, no one could run with us, except in the last 10-lap segment. Then, those guys tried to take it away from us.
"Instead, they took it away from themselves."
Although the All-Star race win didn't count towards the points championship, it certainly marked the prowess and potential of Gordon as a legit Cup contender for the rest of the 1995 season.
Since then, Gordon has captured 76 Cup races, four titles, and two All-Star races (1997 and '01), which may be a ticket to the hallowed grounds of the NASCAR Hall of Fame just down the street in nearby Charlotte, NC.
Now wouldn't that make 1995 seem a lot more distant than it really feels?