CONCORD, N.C. — It's dash for cash, nothing on the line for NASCAR's top drivers but a big payday.
The Sprint Cup All-Star race brings up 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 is tonight, two hours before the race. It consists 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.
Clint Bowyer won the Sprint Showdown on Friday to get an automatic spot in the All-Star Race, and A.J. Allmendinger finished second to advance into the race. John Wise won the fan vote for the third spot in today's race.
Matt Kenseth 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.''
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.
Last week at Kansas Speedway, Jimmie Johnson joked that drivers should go backward or race on a dirt track if NASCAR wanted to tinker with the All-Star Race, in its 30th year.
There's some thought of moving the race to different tracks, like other sports rotate All-Star Games. But one reason the drivers like the race so much is that nearly all of them live in and around Charlotte, N.C.
"I think it would be very entertaining on a short track," Johnson said. "But living it like we do week after week, man, it's so nice for us to be home for a couple weekends. We have 39 races in 41 weeks. The teams are based here. It's nice to be in our own back yard.''