The Winston encourages competition

Posted: Thursday, May 17, 2001

CONCORD, N.C. -- The Winston all-star race is everything that's good about stock car racing because it has nothing to do with a points system and the big picture.

The only things that will drive the 21 players Saturday night at Lowe's Motor Speedway is pride and greed. In stick-and-ball sports, those two are a dangerous pair. In racing, however, they create a wonderful elixir.

For those who don't understand racing driving really fast, making a left turn, driving really fast, making another left turn give The Winston a try. If you still don't get it, you never will.

The winner gets $500,000. Who cares who finishes second?

As the NASCAR Winston Cup Series continues to spin itself into a neat and shiny made-for-television package, The Winston serves as a reminder of what made the sport popular.

The race is open to only the 17 most recent winners, a pair of former series champions and two qualifiers from a pair of races for nonqualifiers. There will be 40 drivers competing in those two races just for a chance to advance to the main event.

It's just like the old days when drivers used to run heat races to weed out the slowpokes.

The main event will be played in three segments: a pair of 30-lap races followed by a 10-lap sprint. Fans will vote on the depth of an inversion after the first 30-lapper. The running order will be flip-flopped somewhere between the sixth- and 12th-place finisher. Just to make it interesting.

Once the second 30-lap segment is complete, drivers have the option to come onto pit road for new tires and minor adjustments. Those electing to stay will inherit the positions vacated by those who make pit stops. That means the slower cars will be up front for the start of the final 10 laps, and the faster cars will be at the back of the pack. The car that wins the final 10-lap segment wins $500,000. Just to make it interesting.

The race won't influence the Winston Cup Series point standings, so drivers don't have to be on their best behavior. There will be crashes and cussing, bold moves and dumb moves, tension and, most importantly, surprises. Just to make it interesting.

The sport has become too involved with a points system that doesn't fairly distinguish between winning and finishing second. The difference in a regular-season race is five points, and that margin is erased if the second-place car manages to lead the most laps.

When there's so little difference between finishing first and fifth 20 points in a season where the champion will garner more than 5,000 points there's no incentive to race hard. Drivers are content with riding along in the top five without thinking about what it takes to win. The Winston changes that mind-set.

With these kind of rules, it should be no surprise that Dale Earnhardt, the man with the intimidating demeanor, holds the record for the most all-star victories at three. Saturday's race won't be the same without him. But 21 other drivers will try to create enough sparks and excitement to make up the difference. Just to make it interesting.

REACH Don Coble at doncoble@mindspring.com.



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