The Winston: $1 Million to the Winner!
Like last year, it¿ll be ¿Survival of the Fastest¿ as drivers will be eliminated from the grid following both the first and second segments, leaving just the 14 fastest drivers to compete for the million-dollar winner¿s share of a $3.5 million purse in the final 20-lap dash around Lowe¿s Motor Speedway.
Throughout the various renditions of The Winston, one thing has remained constant ¿ The Winston is the richest race per mile on the NASCAR Winston Cup calendar. This year¿s winner will earn $1 million, or $50,000 per lap over the final 20-lap segment.
Also new in 2003, the ¿Survival of the Fastest¿ format will apply to The Winston Open. Only one winner from the Winston Open will advance to The Winston. The No Bull Sprint has been eliminated. As in years past, The Winston Open will be 30 laps, but this year, those laps will be divided into two segments of 20 and 10 laps, respectively. After the first 20-lap segment, the top-14 cars will advance to the final 10-lap segment. There will be a caution period between segments during which teams may pit, but will lose track position.
As is the case with the first two segments of The Winston, should the Winston Open encounter a caution during the first 20-lap segment, effort will be made to ensure a green-flag finish for that segment. Only green-flag laps count in the final 10-lap segment.
The Winston Open is composed of drivers and teams who participated in a NASCAR Winston Cup event during the current or previous season and are not otherwise eligible for The Winston.
The Winston (Saturday, May 17) will consist of three segments totaling 90 laps, or 135 miles, around the 1.5-mile surface of Lowe¿s Motor Speedway.
The first segment will be 40 laps, after which the field will be trimmed to the top-20 finishers. During the segment, teams must make a green-flag, four-tire pit stop but must complete lap No. 40 on the track. Caution laps will count in the segment, but efforts will be made for a green-flag finish of the segment.
The second segment will be 30 laps, after which only 14 competitors will advance to the shootout for $1 million.
Inversion, a staple of the competitive format of The Winston since 1992, will remain a part of the program for the 2003 event. Following the second segment, there will be an inversion as determined by the fans. An announcement on how fans will vote will be made in the near future by Lowe¿s Motor Speedway.
The field for The Winston, by rule, consists of a minimum of 19 drivers who have either won races or championships in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series or The Winston within the last five years, plus one driver who transfers by winning the Winston Open, the qualifier run immediately prior to The Winston. Currently, there are 23 drivers eligible for this year¿s edition of The Winston.
Qualifying procedures for The Winston continue to focus on team performance. Each team will complete three laps around Lowe¿s Motor Speedway with a mandatory four-tire pit stop during the qualifying attempt. Drivers will have to obey the pit-road speed limit entering pit road, but there is no speed limit exiting pit road. The green flag and checkered flag must be taken on the track. The total elapsed time of the pit stop and laps will determine the pole position for The Winston. The pole-winning team will collect $50,000.
Adaptation and modification have been constants throughout The Winston history. The event has evolved greatly from its original one-segment, 10-car minimum format in 1985. Some of the most notable changes include:
¿First running of The Winston (1985) paid $200,000 to the winner and featured a total purse of $500,000.
¿The Winston made its only appearance outside the Charlotte, N.C. area when it was held at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1986.
¿The Winston, 1987, became a three-segment event with a total purse of $600,000. The Winston Open, a qualifying race for all drivers not already guaranteed a slot in The Winston, was first held.
¿In 1989, teams became a more integral part of establishing the race lineup as the pit stop became a required element in The Winston qualifying. Total purse topped $1 million for the first time.
¿The Winston featured a two-segment format in 1990 and 1991.
¿Fans attending The Winston became part of the race strategy in 1992 when they were asked to vote whether or not to invert the entire field following the first of three segments. The answer was a resounding yes.
¿The Winston became known as The Winston Select from 1994-96.
¿In 1997, The Winston became truly a winners-only event when its eligibility rules changed and reserved guaranteed slots in the starting grid only for those drivers who had won a NASCAR Winston Cup Series event during the current or preceding year, a NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship and any active driver who had won The Winston within the preceding five years.
¿Starting in 1998, only green flag laps counted toward the completion of The Winston. Driver inversion could be as many as 12 cars or as few a three, as decided at random.
¿As The Winston moved into a new century in 2000, the purse escalated to $2 million, with the winner pocketing $500,000.