There's been a lot of attention directed to the NASCAR Nextel Cup "Chase to the Championship." This is the scenario wherein a driver had to be in the Top 10 (or within 400 points of the leader, but that was a moot point) in order to win the championship. For racers in NASCAR's four Elite divisions, the idea of being in the Top 10 to be rewarded actually occurred last year. For these drivers, the chase to the Top 10 is old news.

For drivers in the AutoZone Midwest, Northwest, Southeast, and Southwest Divisions, the honor of being in the Top 10 carries a special privilege. Only these drivers can represent their divisions in the second running of the Toyota All-Star Showdown.

The chase is a little different for racers in the Busch North and West Series, the two Grand National groups within NASCAR. They need to get into the Top 15 in their respective divisions to earn a similar invitation.

The idea behind the race is to bring the drivers from throughout the country to a head-to-head finale. The Elite Division cars use the same rules, so these 40 are tossed together in one race. The same holds true for the 30 cars that come together from the Busch North and West Series point standings.

The '04 event will once again be held at Irwindale Speedway near Los Angeles. This year's race will be held November 11-13. The feature races will be telecast live on SPEED Channel.

What to Expect Like many high-profile races, making the event is a challenge equal to winning the race. Those who qualify for the race can expect to have a day of practice, a day of preliminary events, and the final day devoted to the longer- distance features. Since California is 3,000 miles away from Cherryfield, Maine (the home of Busch North contender Andy Santerre), many of the teams will be on the road days before the race. For those with a West Coast address, the travel is lessened, but significant for some Northwest racers, as well.

For the '03 event, practice day gave the drivers a good look at the track that was unfamiliar to most. Irwindale Speedway is a half-mile track that is part of the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series and hosts events for the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division Southwest Series and the NASCAR Grand National Division West Series. The track offers progressive banking and a wide racing surface. In addition to its NASCAR events, Irwindale hosts open-wheel racing and drifting competition and serves as a model for speedway promotions.

The qualifying events will once again be held on Friday. The 40 racers in the Elite Division are lined up based on alternating points positions with the highest cars in the point standings starting in the rear. Each qualifying race features 20 cars and is run over a 50-lap distance. The Grand National Divisions use two 50-lap qualifying races with 15 cars in each event. The winners of each of the qualifying races will earn a front-row starting spot for the finale. The Grand National cars will contest 125 laps while the main event for the Elite racers will be 100 laps.

There is a unique twist to the feature event. The race will be stopped 25 laps short of the total distance for a 10-minute break. After the break, the field will be inverted for the restart. Also, there is a team competition during the first portion of the race. Drivers are representing their series, and the team scoring the lowest number of points, based on the running order at the break, will be declared the winner of the team competition. Purse and prize money for the '04 event will exceed $500,000.

Who Will Return? Making the field for the first event does not guarantee participation in any subsequent events. Everyone started the '04 season at the same spot. You have to earn your way in.

For 2004, there will be one champion returning while the other will be out of the picture. Austin Cameron, winner of the Grand National finale, is continuing a strong run in the West Series in 2004. Ironically, Cameron was not expected to be a part of the show in 2003.