All-Star Race Remains Intact
Jeff Myer, Nikki Krone & Kim DeHaven
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With a new season comes change. With a
new series’ sponsor comes A LOT of change. Gone from NASCAR is the
traditional preseason preview and Miss Winston, but Nextel presented
fans with the “Daytona Fan Fest” to satisfy their desire to see their
favorite drivers one-on-one. NASCAR has also introduced the new 26/10
championship race, which has left an unfavorable impression among many
fans and drivers alike. All of that led to some worry about what
changes would come to the “All-Star” race (previously known as “The
On Tuesday, at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, NASCAR and Nextel officials,
along with Rusty Wallace and LMS President Humpy Wheeler, were on hand
to announce the specifics about the 2004 “NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star
Challenge.” Fans who may have been concerned about changes will be
happy to know that the event will generally remain as it was in 2003.
Lowe’s Motor Speedway will again host the event, which has its 20th
running on May 22nd. The race has been held at LMS every year since
its inception, with the exception of 1986, when it was held at Atlanta
Motor Speedway. There has been talk about moving the event to
different tracks every year, but because Charlotte is the “home base”
for the majority of team, and because the “Coca Cola 600” is usually
held the following weekend, many aren’t to happy about the idea.
Wheeler promises to make this year’s event exciting, in hopes of
convincing NASCAR to leave it be.
“No other all-star event in professional
sports has produced the drama and excitement this event has for nearly
two decades,” said H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler. “Serving as the home venue
for this event, we have worked hard to build equity and making the
NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge a real fan favorite. We have some
things up our sleeve to make the 20th edition bigger and better than
The night will begin with the Nextel
Open, a two-segment (20 laps/10 laps) preliminary event for teams who
have competed, but not won, during 2003 or 2004. The winner of the
Nextel Open will move on to the next event.
Following the Open will be the main event, the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star
Challenge. Along with the winner of the Open, there will be a minimum
of 20 cars and drivers who meet one (or in some cases more) of the
following criteria: (1) Drivers and car owners who have won races in
either 2003 or 2004; (2) Active drivers who have won the championship
of NASCAR’s premier series; and/or (3) Active NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series
drivers who have won the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge.
The race itself will consist of three segments totaling 90 laps/135
miles around the 1.5-mile Lowe’s Motor Speedway track. In the initial
40-lap segment the top 20 finishers then advance to the next segment.
The second segment is a 30-lap sprint in which the top 14 finishers
move to the third and final 20-lap segment.
Once again, fans will get a chance to put their mark on the event.
Fans will be able to vote on the number of cars to be inverted (from
three to 10 cars) for the final 20-lap segment.
One thing that has changed this year is the prize money, and it’s a
definite benefit for the teams. The total purse has gone up $225,000
from 2003, to $4,095,000. The winner will receive $1 million.
"The NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge is a marquee event for Nextel,"
said Michael Robichaud, senior director of sports and entertainment
marketing for Nextel, the title sponsor of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup
Series. "It has been one of the most exciting events on the schedule
since its inception because drivers aren’t competing for points – they
race for pride and a check for $1 million. That format has created
some of the sport’s greatest moments, which has made it a favorite for
both drivers and fans.”
As of February 24th, there are currently 18 drivers eligible to
participate in this year’s All-Star race. Michael Waltrip, Dale
Jarrett, Matt Kenseth, Bobby Labonte, Ricky Craven, Kurt Busch, Ryan
Newman, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Joe Nemechek, Jimmie Johnson,
Tony Stewart, Robby Gordon, Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick, Terry Labonte
and Bill Elliott are all eligible by virtue of their 2003 or 2004
victories. Mark Martin is a past winner of this event and Rusty
Wallace is a former Cup champion, which puts both of them in the show
Joe and Rick Hendrick’s No. 25 entry (currently driven by Brian
Vickers) and Ray Evernham’s No. 9 entry (currently driven by Kasey
Kahne) are also eligible because of victories in 2003 and 2004.
Currently, there is no word on whether or not Vickers and Kahne will
run these vehicles in the event.
The race can be seen live on Saturday, May 22nd, beginning at 7:00
P.M. EST, with live coverage on FX.
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