Talladega offering $100K motivation

Updated: October 8, 2011, 1:35 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Talladega Superspeedway officials are offering $100,000 to the driver who earns the most lead changes in the Sprint Cup race Oct. 23.

But there's one caveat: The 43-car field has to produce 100 lead changes during the 188-lap race for a driver to earn the money.

That's not as difficult as it sounds. The spring race this year at Talladega had 88 lead changes among 26 drivers. It's partly due to the increased emphasis on pairs drafting, where cars line up two-by-two to get around the track faster, often swapping spots between the two drivers.

The spring race in 2010 also had 88 lead changes.

"Our fans love to see all the lead changes," Talladega chairman Grant Lynch said Saturday. "So it makes sense to put a little more incentive on giving the fans what they want. It should give the drivers a chance to really mix it up in traffic."

But the upcoming Talladega race will have a couple of rule changes designed to cut down on the pairs racing. The restrictor plate opening is larger, which will add horsepower. And the teams won't be allowed to place lubricant on the bumpers, which made it easier to bump draft in pairs.

"From what I've been told, it's not going to make a huge difference," Brad Keselowski said Saturday. "We're just gonna be faster."

The chance at the bonus money could encourage drivers to deliberately pair up and swap spots for the lead as often as possible to reach the 100 mark.

"Some guys get happy hogging the lead," Keselowski said. "But now others will want to change that with this bonus.

"It's going to add lots of excitement. And I always look for new things to jolt energy into the sport. This has a lot of merit."

Kurt Busch agrees, believing the chance at the bonus will ramp things up on a track that is known for its danger and unexpected moments.

"Talladega already creates some of the most unique racing in the world," Busch said Saturday. "To have this bonus for the drivers, we'll do whatever we can get the extra cash. This is really neat. This is what we need to do put more people in the grandstands."

The bonus goes to the driver who takes the lead the most times, which are only counted at the start-finish line. It's not the driver who leads the most laps.

If two or more drivers tie for the most lead changes, the bonus money will be split evenly between them.

Both Busch and Keselowski are in the Chase, so they may not take as many chances as drivers outside the Chase.

"The guys in the Chase have to be careful," Busch said. "But we also want that bonus point for leading a lap. But there a group of guys just outside the Chase that are very competitive. Throw a $100,000 out there and it will get interesting.

"It will be cool to see as the race goes. TV will probably put a meter at the bottom of the screen to show how close it is; up to 50, up to 60 and how close each driver is to getting the bonus."

But Keselowski has one concern: "The crew chiefs probably won't tell us how close we are."

So can they reach 100 lead changes in the race, something that's never been done before?

"I think so," Keselowski said. "It wasn't that far away at 88. A lot depends on yellows and how they fall, but it's certainly attainable."

Lynch agrees.

"The insurance people thought it attainable," he said. "We couldn't get insurance for it."

Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter