The NBA has Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Shaquille O’Neal on its list with 15 All-Star appearances. Baseball greats such as Brooks Robinson, Ozzie Smith and Yogi Berra each played in 15 All-Star Games. And proving how elusive 15 is, no NFL player has played in 15 Pro Bowls. The only one to come close is Merlin Olsen with 14.
Saturday night at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/National Wild Turkey Federation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing, joins this exclusive club of 15 by making his 15th appearance in NASCAR’s All-Star event – the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.
By definition, an All-Star event is an exhibition featuring the sport’s best competitors. In basketball, baseball and football, participants are selected by a combination of votes from fellow players, coaches and fans.
The process for All-Star selection in NASCAR is quite a bit different. It’s a win-and-you’re-in model, with the starting field consisting of recent NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race winners (2012-2013), All-Star Race winners from the past 10 years and former series champions from the past 10 years.
It’s a model that has worked very well for Stewart, who has been an All-Star Race regular since his rookie year in 1999.
A win in what was then known as The Winston Open – the undercard race to The Winston, which was the original name of the All-Star Race – propelled Stewart into The Winston. He started last in the 21-car field, but rallied his way into the lead before Ironman Terry Labonte took control and drove to the win with Stewart crossing the stripe in second.
Stewart has since solidified his place in the annual event by winning each of the necessary qualifications for the All-Star Race. He’s a three-time Sprint Cup champion who has won at least one race every year he’s competed in the series. And in 2009, Stewart etched his name on the list of All-Star Race winners by besting the best of the best. He led only once for two laps, but they were the most important ones, pacing the final two circuits of Charlotte’s 1.5-mile oval after getting by Matt Kenseth for the lead on lap 98 of the 100-lap contest. Stewart’s margin of victory over the 2003 Sprint Cup champion was .971 of a second.
It was Stewart’s first victory as a driver/owner with Stewart-Haas Racing, making him the first driver/owner to win a Sprint Cup-sanctioned event since Ricky Rudd won a point-paying race in October 1998 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. Stewart became the second driver/owner to win the All-Star Race, joining Geoff Bodine, who accomplished the feat in 1994.
Along with the 2009 win, Stewart has scored an impressive eight top-fives and earned an average finish of eighth in 14 career All-Star Race starts.
Now, All-Star Race No. 15 looms for Stewart under the lights at Charlotte Motor Speedway. And like Stewart’s All-Star counterparts in the stick-and-ball realm, it’s another chance to shine.