FONTANA, Calif. -- NASCAR has changed the rules for next month's Nextel All-Star Challenge to expand the starting lineup and do away with the eliminations after the first two segments.
The changes will allow more drivers to compete for the $1 million payday in the non-points race, scheduled for May 22 at the Lowe's Motor Speedway
Race winners from the 2003 and 2004 seasons automatically qualify for the all-star race, as well as former all-star winners and former series champions. Before NASCAR made changes, only all-star winners from the last five years qualified for the event.
The new rule helps Mark Martin and Geoffrey Bodine avoid the Challenge Open -- a race for non-qualifiers. The winner of the Challenge Open earns a berth in the all-star race.
The race will still involve three segments. But instead of eliminating drivers after the first two segments, every driver will move into the finale.
"It's an all-star event and all the stars should participate," said H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler, the track president at Lowe's. "That's what fans come to see -- their favorite drivers."
THE RATINGS GAME: Last Sunday's race at the Talladega Superspeedway gave the Nextel Cup Series a much-needed boost among television viewers.
After posting declines in four of the first eight races -- and an overall decline -- ratings improved for the Aaron's 499.
A final 5.9 rating on FOX made it the most-watched sporting event on television all weekend. Saturday's Busch Series race was the third most-watched event during the weekend.
HELPING HAND: Tony Stewart, who already donated $1 million to Kyle Petty's Victory Junction Gang Camp for chronically-ill children, has organized a benefit concert to help local children's charities in Paducah, Ky., and the Petty camp.
The concert, scheduled for Oct. 6 at the Luther F. Carson Four Rivers Center, will feature country stars Diamond Rio and Trace Adkins. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Petty will also appear.
"This concert is going to be a first-class production, with all of the money raised going to charity," Stewart said.
"Part of the money will go to local charities in and around the Paducah area, while the rest of the money will go to Kyle and Pattie Petty's Victory Junction Gang Camp in Randleman, N.C.
"We're making sure that anyone who comes to the concert is going to have a good time."
SEEING YELLOW: Fans threw trash on the track during the final laps of last Sunday's race at the Talladega Superspeedway. Some were angry NASCAR ruled Jeff Gordon the leader when the final caution came out but most were upset the final four laps remained under caution although track crews weren't on the track.
The race featured 11 caution periods that lasted 55 laps. In all, 1 hour, 21 minutes and 8 seconds of the race's official time of 3 hours, 51 minutes and 53 seconds were under caution.
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