Originally created 05/17/02

Fun and Games

CONCORD, N.C. - Mike Wallace has never won a race in his Winston Cup Series career, but he will be in the starting lineup for Saturday night's The Winston all-star race.

Jimmy Spencer, Brett Bodine, Jeremy Mayfield, John Andretti, Kyle Petty and Ken Schrader have all won races in their careers, but none are qualified for the winners-only race.

Such is the quirky, yet entertaining, nature of Saturday's non-points race at the Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Race sponsor R.J. Reynolds Tobacco has tweaked and twisted the format for the $3 million race to make it so bizarre, the drivers don't even try to make sense of it all.

"You just get in the car and try to get to the front no matter what," said Terry Labonte, the 1988 winner of The Winston. "The thing is, it's a lot of fun for the drivers and it's certainly a lot of fun for the fans. As far as the rules, you can't think about them when you're driving. Your mind is on other things."

The qualifying procedure is the first step away from racing's normal routine. The only drivers guaranteed a spot in the main event (9 p.m., FX) are those who won a race in the last two seasons or those who now drive for a car owner that's won a race in the last two seasons.

In addition, former series champions and anyone who's won the all-star race in the last five years is in the field, as well as winners of two preliminary qualifying races.

Wallace gained his entry when Joe Nemechek drove Andy Petree's Chevrolet to a win last year at Rockingham, N.C. Wallace now drives for Petree.

Spencer, Bodine, Mayfield, Andretti, Petty and Schrader, drivers who've combined for 20 wins, haven't won in the last two years, so they all will have to participate in a pair of qualifying races - the Winston Open and the No Bull Five Sprint.

That's only the beginning. The main event has even more twists and turns.

The race is divided into three segments. The first segment is 40 laps and only the top 20 cars will be allowed to continue in the event. The second segment is 30 laps long and only the top 10 survive to the final, 20-lap sprint that's worth $750,000 to the winner.

And to make it more interesting, fans can vote to invert the starting lineup for the final segment. That could put the 10th-place car from on the pole for the sprint and the leader in 10th place.

With the faster cars in the back, the charges to the front have provided the sport some of its best moments. Dale Earnhardt's dramatic pass in the grass to beat Bill Elliott in 1987 elevated him to legendary status. Davey Allison once won while crashing; Mark Martin once lost by running out of gas; Rusty Wallace once spun Darrell Waltrip out a lap short of the finish line to win.

And in 1996, winless Michael Waltrip advanced to the main event in a qualifying race, then he won The Winston to become the only non-winner to win the race.

"Nobody remembers who finishes second in that race except us drivers," said Dale Jarrett, who's never won the all-star event.

The race doesn't count toward the season standings. Because of that, many drivers take a lot more chances than they would in a points race.

"I remember running one of these things a few years ago for (car owner) Billy Hagan and I blew a tire and hit the wall pretty hard," Labonte said. "They towed the car in the garage and the back end was all torn up; the front end was all torn up; there was a huge puddle of oil and water leaking from the engine. I looked at the car in the garage area and I started laughing. If it was a points race, it wouldn't have been funny."

If it was a points race, it wouldn't be as fun.

Reach Don Coble at doncoble@bellsouth.net.


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