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All-stars packing N.C. track

Just what is The Winston?

Officially, it is an all-star event Saturday night at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C. It is run in segments of 30, 30 and 10 laps and is worth $500,000 to the winner.

Unofficially, it is the final event of two days of racing that has all the charm of an unfinished jigsaw puzzle.

How do drivers qualify? Let us count the ways:

They are in if they won a race this season or in 1999, have won The Winston in the past five years or have won a Winston Cup championship.

They can get in by winning Saturday's 30-lap The Winston Open, which uses a starting grid fashioned from Friday night's pair of 25-lap qualifiers.

They can get in by winning the 16-lap No Bull Sprint, which is made up of drivers who lost The Winston Open but finished on the lead lap.

They can get in with an owner's exemption, which benefited Kenny Irwin by way of Joe Nemechek.

Nemechek drove for Team SABCO's Felix Sabates last season and won at Loudon, N.H., earning a spot in the field. Because Nemechek moved to Andy Petree Racing this season, Sabates also gets a spot, filled by Irwin.

Got that?

The current field: Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, Rusty Wallace, Terry Labonte, John Andretti, Dale Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Dale Jarrett, Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart, Jeremy Mayfield, Bill Elliott, Darrell Waltrip, Michael Waltrip, Ward Burton, Irwin and Nemechek.

"This race is simply the best of the best running for bragging rights. I'm so glad this team has this opportunity," said Irwin, who ran the race in 1998 as a rookie. "I learned a lot about how fierce the competition is the first time I drove in it. Everyone races their hearts out on the track and it's no holds barred."

GOOD TIMING: Terry Labonte won last year's The Winston and comes into Saturday's after a second-place finish May 6 at Richmond. It was his best finish of the season.

"I think we have a much better team this year than we did at this point of the season in 1999," he told NASCAR Online. "We're still not quite as steady as we need to be, but we're getting close. About the only thing we don't have now is a win."

Labonte, a two-time winner of The Winston, led 24 of 70 laps last season, including the last five after he passed Stewart.

"Pit strategy made the difference," Labonte said. "We changed four tires before that final 10-lap run. Tony and some of the others only changed two. That helped me chase them down and get the win."

JUAN GONE?: An item posted at CNNSI.com and credited to the Eclipse news service said CART defending champion Juan Montoya will drive Formula One next season. Frank Williams, head of the Williams Formula One team, spoke to Montoya's car owner, Chip Ganassi, about the move.

ODDS AND ENDS: Speaking of Montoya, he and Ganassi teammate Jimmy Vasser are doing quite well in the Indy Racing cars they will use at the Indianapolis 500. Montoya has the third-best practice speed this week at 222.102 mph. Vasser is fifth at 221.775. Messages of condolence to the Petty family after Adam Petty's death have reached almost 17,000. Messages can be sent through adamcondolencescybertrack.com, available only through www.pettyracing.com.

REFUELING: Busch Grand National car owner-driver Ken Alexander was fined $10,000 because of fuel irregularities found May 5 before qualifying at Richmond. An item in Tuesday's notebook named another driver.

_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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