By admin | July 22, 2010
By Richard Allen
Each sport has those special events everyone wants to win for the prestige. Golf has the four majors. Tennis has four grand slam events. Horse racing has the triple crown.
NASCAR racing has some of those special events as well. Back in the 1980s the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company chose four events to stand above the rest. Any driver who could win three of those four was to receive a payment of $1 million. Bill Elliott became a household name even among non-racing fans in 1985 when he captured the ‘Winston Million’.
Those four races were the Daytona 500, the Winston 500 in Talladega, the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte and the Southern 500 in Darlington.
Most every NASCAR fan would no doubt agree that the Daytona 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 remain as events set apart from the others. And even with its new date, the Southern 500 likely still fits that bill as well.
So, if there are to be four crown jewel races, based on the standard set by Winston back in the 1980s, then what race is the fourth?
Is one of the Talladega races still a crown jewel event? The Winston 500 was chosen back in the ‘80s due to the fact that it was the ‘Winston’ 500 and the $1 million prize was given out by the company that made that brand of cigarettes.
The question in regard to making one of the Talladega races a crown jewel is which one is it? Both races there are 500 miles and one really has no more historical significance than the other. The Winston 500 was the spring race back then. But in reality, the Talladega 500 was perhaps a bit more prestigious if not for the labeling by R.J. Reynolds.
Maybe one of the Talladega races could be called a crown jewel event, but which one?
Some might contend that the night race at Bristol has risen to the level of a crown jewel. Many drivers consider a it win that makes their career complete. Matt Kenseth said as much when he won the race for the first time.
This particular race holds such a special place due to its late summer, nighttime wildness. Fans and drivers alike have long circled this event on their calendars as something to look forward to during each racing season. While it could be argued that the change to the track’s surface and the points racing aspect of the Chase for the Championship format has taken some of the edge off the event, it is still a top draw.
Then, there is the Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Among those vying to be considered a crown jewel, this is a relative newcomer. NASCAR first raced there in 1994 while the other tracks mentioned date back to the 1960s and beyond.
However, this track is the most historic of all racing venues in America and perhaps even the world. The Indianapolis 500 has been contested since 1911. For decades, it was THE race to win. Because of that race, this track holds a special place in racing history.
So, since the track is such an historic place then does that elevate the Brickyard 400 to a level over and above other Sprint Cup races? In my opinion, it does. Winning on this track, even when the race is not called the Indianapolis 500, is something that can add status to a driver’s career.
While Daytona, Darlington and Charlotte have been around far longer, the race at Indy has joined those events as the four most special on the NASCAR schedule. Every race pays the same number of points and a number of them pay large amounts of prize money. However, in my opinion, winning these four races is worth much more than mere points and money. These four races represent a place in racing eternity.
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Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly columns appear in The Mountain Press and The Knoxville Journal.
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