Inclusion is the byword. Competition is the beneficiary.

Therein lay the immediate implications of the significant changes announced today for the 20th annual NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge, set for Saturday evening, May 22, at Lowe¿s Motor Speedway.

NASCAR¿s always-anticipated all-star event ¿ formerly known as The Winston ¿ is primarily for race winners from the previous and current NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series seasons. It also includes the winner of the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge Open, a preliminary event for teams that have not qualified for the showcase event.

One of the changes instituted this year involves eligibility of past all-star champions. This year, two other past champions ¿ who are also still active drivers ¿ are eligible; previously, there was a five-year retroactive cut-off for past champions. This change makes 1998 event champion Mark Martin (No. 6 Viagra Ford) and 1994 champion Geoffrey Bodine eligible.

Another change involves the actual race format. While the 90-lap/135-mile overall distance is again divided into 40-, 30- and 20-lap segments, no longer will each segment result in some drivers being eliminated. This will ensure a full field of cars racing for the winner¿s purse of approximately $1 million.

¿It¿s an all-star event and all the stars should participate,¿ said Lowe¿s Motor Speedway President H.A. ¿Humpy¿ Wheeler. ¿That¿s what the fans come to see ¿ their favorite drivers.¿

Also, after the first segment, there will be a random drawing to determine an inversion of the starting order for the second segment; between six and 12 cars will be inverted. The previous format called for an inversion prior to the final segment.

Changing the inversion to the second segment will ¿encourage great racing and no sandbagging in the first 40-lap segment,¿ Wheeler said. ¿Drivers in the back will want to race themselves into that 12-car inversion while the front guys still have to race hard not knowing how many will be inverted.¿

¿This year¿s NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge is certain to continue the event¿s proud tradition, and build upon that tradition,¿ said NASCAR President Mike Helton. ¿The core elements of the event¿s longstanding appeal are intact. The changes we¿ve made this year will only add to that appeal.¿

Going into the Auto Club 500 at California Speedway, a total of 23 drivers and car owners have qualified for the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge. In instances where a driver has qualified by winning a race but has since changed teams, both the driver and the driver¿s former team qualify for an entry.

Leading the list of qualifiers is the defending champion No. 48 Lowe¿s Chevrolet team and driver Jimmie Johnson.

¿Sounds like some interesting changes,¿ Johnson said, ¿and having $1 million on the line [to win] is going to make it exciting, as usual. With a million dollars on the line you have to do everything you can [to win].¿

For NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge ticket information, contact the Lowe¿s Motor Speedway ticket office at 1-800-455-FANS.