CONCORD, N.C. -- One of the last things drivers see when leaving the garage area at Charlotte Motor Speedway and heading to the track is a sign that reads: "$2,000,000 ? How BAD do you want it?"
It's a reference to the prize money that can be won if a driver sweeps all five segments of Saturday night's NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.
There's the $1 million from Sprint for winning the race, plus the additional $1 million called Bruton's Big Bonus offered by Bruton Smith, the chairman of Speedway Motorsports, Inc., to a driver who completes the segments sweep.
It's all part of the no-holds-barred attitude that is being built up for this year's event, which includes rule changes geared toward improving the competition in the annual big-money race.
But no matter how the rules change, the big paycheck is what captures drivers' attention. When asked what the odds would be for a driver to complete the sweep and walk away with a cool $2 million, Kyle Busch said:
"If I were a sports bookie, I'd put a 300-to-1 on it. You have to run each segment as hard as you can. You have to stay out front to keep your average finish as high as you can. There's going to be a lot of things playing out in between the segments with pit stops, tire strategy. ... It's certainly going to make it a lot more fun, not only for the fans but for the crew chiefs as well."
While Busch seems to have the mentality to go for the sweep, Jimmie Johnson is as good a bet as any to pull it off. He is a three-time Sprint All-Star Race champion, tied with Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt for most all-time wins in this event.
"With the competition that exists in the All-Star Race it's going to be a long shot, but it's worth it and it will bring some excitement," Johnson said. "If somebody does ring that bell it will be a hell of a party."
Johnson was at the center of last year's winning strategy that led to this year's rule changes. After winning the first segment, Johnson laid back and out of harm's way for the other three segments since rules dictated that his position entering pit road during the final segment was set at first.
"That is our job as teams and drivers, is to figure out how to beat the system," Johnson said. " ? It's fun to have those opportunities to think like that and to find an advantage that others don't. Some may be upset with the way we won last year; I take pride in it. We worked the system and did a good job."
But now the system has changed. Running order at the completion of the fourth segment will be repositioned based on a driver's average finish for the first four segments. That lineup will affect the order heading into a mandatory four-tire pit stop, and the order coming off pit road will determine the lineup for the final 10 laps.
In short, drivers will need to be at their best throughout the race in order to be in the best position to win the race at the end, and race organizers are hoping that will keep the competition fierce throughout the event. Of course, if that isn't enough, then there's the extra $1 million out there for sweeping the segments, too.
Will people like the changes? Matt Kenseth says that depends on how the race plays out.
"Yeah, I mean, usually you decide whether you like it or not afterwards -- see how it works out for you," Kenseth said with a smile.
Fans will get to see how it all works out on Saturday, starting at 7:30 p.m. ET with the Sprint Showdown, followed by the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at 9 p.m., both on SPEED.
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