Race Weekend Central

Drivers On Board with In-Season Tournament, Though Some Want More in Prizes

NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. – Of all the storylines heading into the NASCAR All-Star Race at the historic North Wilkesboro Speedway, one of its biggest was a storyline that won’t even be relevant until mid-2025.

On Monday (May 13), NASCAR, TNT Sports and Amazon Prime Video introduced an in-season tournament that will begin once TNT and Amazon join the NASCAR media world in 2025.

The general gist is that 32 drivers, using an undetermined format for seeding in the last three races of Amazon’s five-race schedule, will compete in a bracket-style tournament over the five races of TNT’s season, with the winner receiving $1 million.

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When the tournament was announced, it was met with generally favorable reactions. Drivers echoed those sentiments just before All-Star practice at North Wilkesboro on Friday (May 17).

“More stuff like that is better for the sport in general,” said Alex Bowman.

“I think it’s gonna be a great addition to the sport,” added Christopher Bell. “It’s certainly gonna open up the strategy a lot, because it really creates a head-to-head racing scenario, where you know, if the yellow flag comes out, you might just do the opposite of the guy that you’re racing, regardless of what that does to your finishing position.

“So I think it’s gonna be awesome for the sport and it’s gonna be really fun to pay attention and see how it influences the racing.”

William Byron has optimism for the tournament, having won a similar bracket challenge in 2023 that was created by Denny Hamlin for fun.

“I was one year too early on that,” Byron said with a chuckle. “So I hope I didn’t push my luck too far on that and we can have a good tournament next year.”

Hamlin himself said, “It certainly has got all positives. I don’t think of anything negative that can go along with it. Certainly you’re gonna have some storylines. We know that this thing is gonna come down to someone, at the very end of the race, battling for an irrelevant position – what we think is an irrelevant position – but it will move someone on.

“There’s some people from the outside that will hopefully get some interest because they get to fill out a bracket, and certainly there will be some contest out there that is gonna reward them for having the best bracket.”

The $1 million prize was a big focal point for some of the drivers. Ross Chastain noted that his experience with the Craftsman Truck Series’ Triple Truck Challenge and the Xfinity Series’ Dash 4 Cash prizes taught him that it’s difficult to not think about the prize at stake.

“I’m greedy, I’m selfish, I want to win,” Chastain said. “I want to win points, I want to win lap times, I want to win money.”

“The money they put out there is a really good thing,” said Josh Berry. “It’s just more money in the pot. So I think it’s a plus for everybody.”

“It’s another contest to win,” said Hamlin. “To me, I’m ultra-competitive, so I’m gonna wanna go out there and win it.”

However, when the idea of awarding playoff points, or even a spot in the playoffs, was posed, some drivers were on board.

Hamlin said he was content either way with the prize, whether or not they added playoff points. However, Austin Cindric seemed a lot more in favor of playoff points as opposed to money.

“If it’s just money, what makes it different [from] the All-Star Race?” said Cindric. “Not that money isn’t fantastic, but, like, it’s not my greatest motivator. But if there’s points on the line, even it’s [just] five playoff points to the guy who wins it, I think that really changes [things].

“Because what you want is something like that to really incentivize the guys all the way throughout the brackets. Like, those guys who just don’t think they have a chance. […] But if there’s playoff points on the line for several different positions, I think that’s big.”

Bell shared similar viewpoints about upping the ante with playoff points.

“I would be in favor for it, for sure,” Bell said. “Because those are hard to get anyway. And I think any opportunity to get more of them would be good. It’s not like it’s a freebie, you know? It’d be [hard to earn] those points. So yeah, I’d be all for that.”

Byron, however, was not on board with such a proposal, using the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers and their performance this season as an example why. The NBA also introduced a similar in-season tournament this season, which the Lakers won. However, that championship didn’t carry into the actual NBA playoffs, as Los Angeles was eliminated in the first round.

“I feel like it should stand on its own,” Byron said of winning the tournament. “It’s a new school idea of thinking, but I think it goes along the lines of what a lot of sports are doing so I feel like it’ll be cool.”

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The biggest point of contention with the $1 million prize is the fact that it is the exact same prize money as the All-Star Race. Debates are starting to arise as to whether or not the All-Star Race’s prize money should be increased, as NASCAR has been awarding $1 million since 2003 – a monetary value that is much less valuable today than it was back then ($1 million in 2003 is over $1.7 million today when adjusted for inflation).

Nevertheless, some drivers still view an opportunity to earn a whopping amount of bonus money come 2025, and don’t believe the value of the All-Star Race is being diminished.

“If nothing changes, we’ll have $2 million up for grabs in money to go get,” Byron said. “So that’s always exciting. Everyone might say it doesn’t matter, but I’ll definitely be watching and tuned in to who I’m matched up against.”

“It’s all a lot of money to me,” Chastain said with a smile. “I’m still trying to get used to the numbers being thrown around.”

“I think the All-Star Race is different,” said Noah Gragson. “Because there’s a select number of guys in the field, right? It’s just two different things; I don’t think you can look at it as one in the same.”

“It’ll bring a lot of eyes to the field in different areas,” said Berry. “I definitely think it’s a positive.”

“The All-Star [Race] here is a really neat event,” said Bowman. “But also, that tournament’s gonna be really cool too.”

“You’re gonna have a Chase Elliott fan rooting for Denny Hamlin one week because they have me in their bracket,” Hamlin said. “I mean, it’s going to create those storylines.”

The tournament will begin on June 28, 2025 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, which was announced as the first race of TNT’s five-race slate next season. As the 2025 schedule has not been released, no other dates in TNT’s schedule, nor the three seeding races for Amazon, have been announced.

About the author

Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. Currently, he is an editor and co-authors Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the primary Truck Series reporter/writer. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is now a grad student. He is a theatre actor and fight-choreographer-in-training in his free time. 

You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.

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