CONCORD, N.C. – It’s dash-for-cash, nothing on the line for NASCAR’s top drivers but a big payday.
The Sprint All-Star race begs the question: What would a driver do for a cool $1 million?
“If you can reach out and grab somebody you will get pretty aggressive for a million dollars,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won the race as a rookie in 2000. He drove for Dale Earnhardt Inc., the team owned by his father, and doesn’t believe he ever got his hands on the winning driver’s $500,000 purse.
“I don’t think I ever saw it,” he said. “I was driving for Daddy back then. He got all that money.”
The format for the annual All-Star race, held at Charlotte Motor Speedway, often changes. The twist this year is that qualifying will be on Saturday night, two hours before the race. It will consist of single-car runs of three laps with a mandatory four-tire pit stop.
The race is 90 laps, broken down over four 20-lap segments and one 10-lap sprint for the money.
But Matt Kenseth, winner of the 2004 race, doesn’t think the big purse gives drivers any more incentive to race hard.
“I think it’s about the same as every other week,” he said. “I think if you have a chance to win that race and you’re right down there to the end, you’re going to do everything you can to win that race. If you wreck, you’re not going to win. Everybody is going for it.”
In present-day NASCAR, a $1 million payday isn’t really enough incentive to make a driver go for broke.
“When you’re in the car, you’re not thinking about the fact that I need to pass for a million dollars,” Danica Patrick said. “If it was about money, I don’t think that would be enough for any of us. It’s about heart and it’s about doing your best and it’s about making the most of the night.
“Now, more than anything since it’s not really about money, it’s just a one-off race, so the results don’t necessarily matter unless you win, so you might as well go for it. For me, that’s what my attitude is toward it. Now if you win a million dollars, that’s great. But if you win the race, you probably already have a million dollars. So, it’s icing on the cake. Now if it was like $5 million, it might make you think. I’ll (make a) pass for $5 million.”
Earnhardt disagrees, and believes a driver with a shot to win might be bolder in the closing laps because the race is only an exhibition for cash.
“If you can reach out and grab somebody you will get pretty aggressive for a million dollars,” Earnhardt said. “It just depends on if someone is in reach. I hope that it will be close, unless I am leading, and if we are leading I hope we are leading by a straightaway. Then I hope it’s real boring.”