Regan Smith was less than a quarter mile past the finish line last Saturday night when he started to realize all the benefits awaiting him as a winner in the Sprint Cup Series.
Not only was his name added to the trophy at one of the sport's most-fabled tracks, joining legendary drivers like David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon, he earned a spot in the Sprint All-Star race later this month at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
That non-points race is selective, open only to former all-star winners and series champions from the past 10 years, as well as race winners from the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
First place on May 21 is worth $1 million.
"We did think about the all-star race on the cool-down lap," Smith said. "I can't believe we just won this race."
This Sunday's FedEx 400 at Dover International Speedway is the last chance for several drivers to make the all-star lineup. If they can't win this week (1 p.m., FOX-Ch. 54), they'll have to race their way into the main event in a last-chance heat race or win the fan vote. With Dale Earnhardt Jr. being on the outside looking in, he's certain to win that vote.
For the first time, Smith won't have to go through the qualifiers.
"This is a pleasant change for me," he said.
Brian Vickers, Joey Logano, Jeff Burton, Martin Truex Jr., Joe Nemechek, Bobby Labonte, Michael Waltrip, Bill Elliott, Ken Schrader and Terry Labonte all have wins in their careers, but they all must try to finish first or second in the Sprint Showdown to get into the all-star race.
So do non-winners like David Ragan, A.J. Allmendinger, Marcos Ambrose, Dave Blaney, David Gilliland, Robby Gordon, Paul Menard, Max Papis, Travis Kvapil and Casey Mears.
Earnhardt never has needed to be a write-in candidate before. He won at Texas during his rookie season and that locked him into the all-star race two months later. When he won the all-star race, he got a 10-year exemption. Now that it's expired and he doesn't have a victory since the 2008 season, he won't have to take any unnecessary changes in the hooligan race. The winner of the fan vote won't be announced until after the Showdown.
Most already are conceding his victory with the fans. After all, he's won their vote as the sport's most popular driver for the last eight years. According to race sponsor Sprint, there already have been a record number of votes cast online.
Reach Don Cobe at firstname.lastname@example.org.