HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – April 30, 2010 – Leading up to the 26th running of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race on Saturday, May 22, at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Sprint (NYSE:S) is counting down the top-five "Most Memorable NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race Events," as chosen by members of the National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA).
Last week, Sprint revealed that NMPA members voted Jeff Gordon's third NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race victory in 2001 as the No. 5 "Most Memorable NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race."
No. 4 on the list is Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s rookie-season NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race victory on May 20, 2000, which is probably best remembered for its emotional Victory Lane celebration.
In the spring of 2000, Earnhardt Jr., a 25-year-old NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie, had not yet earned a starting spot in the prestigious NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. That all changed on April 2, when "Junior" took the checkered flag at Texas Motor Speedway for his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win.
In his NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race debut one month later, Earnhardt Jr. made contact with the retaining wall in the race's first 30-lap segment, causing minimal damage to his No. 8 Chevrolet. Earnhardt Jr. soldiered on, and when a caution flag was displayed early in the race's final segment, he and his Dale Earnhardt Inc. team seized the opportunity.
"We were running third in that last segment," Earnhardt Jr. recently told SPEED. "I said, ‘I can't win it right now.' We decided that the race pays so much to win, if you're running second, even if you don't think you've got what you need, pit. You know, come in and make a change. We did, and that was the way to go."
After taking on four fresh tires, the third-generation driver made his move with eight laps remaining. After tracking down Jerry Nadeau for second-place, Earnhardt Jr. passed Dale Jarrett on the final circuit to become the first rookie NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race winner.
In video footage that has been replayed hundreds of times since that night, Earnhardt Jr. embraced his father and team owner, Dale Earnhardt, in Victory Lane. Seeing the excitement and pride evident on the elder Earnhardt's face still stirs the emotions of fans and NASCAR industry insiders alike.
"When I see pictures of Dale Sr. and Junebug in Victory Circle, I thought that was something I'd be seeing for a long, long time," said Darrell Waltrip, NASCAR legend. "You could see how proud he was of Junior and how happy that made him."
The victory was Earnhardt Jr.'s third NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win in his rookie season (joining the May races at Texas Motor Speedway and Richmond International Raceway), and marked the final time his father would see the young talent visit a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winner's circle.
The top vote recipient for the "Most Memorable NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race" will be revealed during NASCAR Sprint All-Star Week leading up to the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.
Tune in at 7 p.m. EDT on Saturday, May 22, to SPEED for coverage of this year's NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. Sprint customers can also enjoy race coverage on their Sprint phones via NASCAR Sprint Cup Mobile. To download the new NASCAR Sprint Cup Mobile, which is free with any data plan, Sprint customers should text "NASCAR" to 7777 (Standard text messaging and data rates apply). Tickets for the event start at $39 and are available at www.charlottemotorspeedway.com or by calling 800-455-FANS.