The Winston a special event in many ways

What separates The Winston from other professional sports' all-star events?

Well, to start, $1 million.

That's what the winner will receive Saturday night at Lowe's Motor Speedway, a reward that's part of an overall $3 million purse for an event that does what other all-star outings used to do: provide true excitement despite an exhibition format.


Twenty-four drivers will race a total of 90 laps around LMS' 1.5-mile oval, a distance to be divided into three segments of 40, 30 and 20 laps. And of course, in keeping with the event's history, there are twists at every turn. Only 20 cars advance from the first segment; only 14 advance from the second segment. And then, a vote by fans on NASCAR.com -- already under way -- will determine the number of cars inverted (four, six, eight or 10) for the final segment.

The Winston, in its 19th year, will start with a field of 24 this year. The race invites drivers/teams who won a NASCAR Winston Cup Series event in a previous or current season. Also eligible are winners of The Winston within the preceding five years or past NASCAR Winston Cup Series champions. And then there's the wild-card entry afforded the winner of The Winston Open, a race for all teams not already eligible for The Winston.

The Winston Open will precede The Winston on Saturday. It will be 30 laps, divided into segments of 20 and 10 laps, with the 10-lap run having only 14 cars.

There's something else that makes The Winston, technically an exhibition, actually much more than that. Teams use the event as a guide for setups for next week's race at Lowe's Motor Speedway, the Coca-Cola 600.

"If your car is driving well, you're running for a million dollars; but if your car isn't driving well, you're learning from that and applying it to the 600 instead," said reigning NASCAR Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart.

"I've always [thought that] however your car is driving in The Winston is relatively true to how your car is going to drive in the 600. I've always felt like it's a really good test because it's really the only time we have to run at night in race conditions [before the 600].

"It's as fun as Winston Cup racing can be, and I think that shows."

Format for The Winston

The Winston Qualifying

Qualifying for The Winston will consist of three laps with a mandatory four-tire pit stop included. The total elapsed time of the pit stops and laps will make up each team's qualifying effort. Drivers must adhere to the pit road speed limit when entering pit road, but there is no speed limit when exiting. The winning team will earn $50,000.


The Winston Open Qualifying

Qualifying for The Winston Open will be two laps, with the better of the two representing the team's qualifying effort.


The Winston Open

This 30-lap event is for all NASCAR Winston Cup teams that competed in a NASCAR Winston Cup Series event in 2002 or 2003 that are not already eligible for The Winston.

It will be run in two segments. The first segment will be 20 laps after which the field will be reduced to 14 cars. All laps count including caution laps in the first segment. The second segment will be 10 laps and only green-flag laps will count to ensure a green-flag finish. The winner of The Winston Open will advance to The Winston.


The Winston

The Winston will be 90 laps total and consist of three segments totaling 40, 30 and 20 laps. The field will be inverted for the final segment as determined by a fan vote on NASCAR.com.

The first segment will be 40 laps. Teams must make a mandatory green-flag, four-tire pit stop at some point during this segment and must complete Lap 40 on the track. All restarts will be double-file. All laps count including caution laps. If a late-segment caution occurs, every effort will be made to ensure a green-flag finish. The top-20 finishers from the first segment will advance to the second segment. The winner of the first segment will earn $50,000.

There will be a 10-minute break following the first segment, at which time teams may change tires and make chassis adjustments without losing track position.

The second segment will be 30 laps. The finish of the first segment will determine the double-file starting order of the 20-car field for the second segment. There are no pit-stop requirements, but teams may pit if they wish.

All laps count including caution laps. If a late-segment caution occurs, every effort will be made to ensure a green-flag finish. Only the top-14 finishers in the second segment will advance to the final segment.

The winner of the second segment will earn $50,000. There will be a 10-minute break following the second segment, at which time teams may change tires and make chassis adjustments without losing track position.

The third and final segment will be 20 laps. The top-14 finishers in the second segment will compete in the third and final segment with the field inverted as determined by a fans vote on nascar.com. The start of the final segment will be double file. Only green flag laps count.

The winner of The Winston will win $1 million.