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NASCAR’s All-Star Winner to Get $1M

April 16, 2003

CONCORD, N.C. (AP) _ The winner of NASCAR’s annual All-Star race will earn a record $1 million payout, an increase of $250,000 from last year.

R.J. Reynolds will pay the bulk of the $3.5 million total purse, which was announced Wednesday, even though the tobacco company recently cited financial losses in giving NASCAR permission to look for another series sponsor.

RJR spokesman Denny Darnell said the commitment to increase the purse for The Winston was made late last year, before the tobacco company began exploring leaving the sponsorship business after 32 years.

Should NASCAR quickly find a replacement for RJR _ the current contract runs through 2007 _ The Winston could change dramatically.

But for now, the focus is only on the upcoming May 17 event, which will be held at Lowe’s Motor Speedway for the 17th consecutive year.

``We’ve said we’ve had discussions with (NASCAR) about the possibility of exploring a new sponsor,″ said Ned Leary, president of RJR’s sports marketing division. ``I don’t have anything to say about that, other than to say while we’re here there will be an all-star event.″

As The Winston has grown over the years, so has the debate over how the event should be run.

Both NASCAR and various track owners want the event to move to different facilities each year.

Most teams and drivers want the race to stay at Lowe’s, considered the home track to most of NASCAR’s competitors, because its one less weekend of travel.

Humpy Wheeler, president of Lowe’s, has fought hard to keep the race at his track, installing lights to make it a Saturday night show and creating an all-star type atmosphere equal to other professional sports.

He vowed Wednesday that the race would be back next season.

``The Winston is not going anywhere ... We’re going to have it here, we’re going to put a bunch of people in the grandstands again, we’re going to have a great race and we’re going to work hard to keep it here,″ he said.

Mark Martin, who lives in Daytona, wants the race to stay in suburban Charlotte.

``I think this is the greatest racetrack that we race on for putting on a show,″ Martin said.

It’s also one of the richest payouts over the 36-race season. By promising $1 million to the winner this year, RJR is awarding $50,000 per lap for the final 20-lap segment of the race.

``I was here in 1981 and 1982 and it’s unbelievable where the sport has grown,″ Martin said. ``The opportunity to race for $50,000 a lap _ man, I remember when $5,000 to win the race spun me out.″

RJR also tinkered slightly with the format.

The 90-lap race will still follow the ``Survival of the Fastest″ format that was introduced last year, and cuts cars from the field after the first two segments of 40 laps and 30 laps.

This year, 20 drivers will advance to the second segment and 14 will go to the final shootout.

Officials also implemented the ``Jeff Burton Rule″ during the first segment, saying a driver has to pit for four tires under green, and the stop must be completed before the final lap. Last year, Burton pitted on the last lap and made up a number of positions because he didn’t have to get back up to speed.

The Winston Open will be split into two segments of 20 and 10 laps. After the 20-lap segment, the field also will be pared down to 14 cars. The winner of that segment will advance on to the main event.

Last year, two drivers _ one from the Open and another from the No Bull 5 Sprint _ advanced to the main event. But the No Bull program has been eliminated by RJR.

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