NASCAR needs to think bigger than a $1 million prize for the All-Star Race and in-season tournament

The All-Star Race winner's bonus has been the same since 2003. $1 million in 2003 is $1.7 million in 2024 adjusting for inflation.

It’s time for NASCAR to create a better incentive for its special events.

NASCAR announced Monday that it would have an in-season tournament for its drivers during the 2025 Cup Series season. The tournament will feature 32 drivers in head-to-head matchups over five races, with the last two drivers remaining racing each other for $1 million.

If $1 million feels like a very familiar prize, it’s because it is.

Then Cup Series title sponsor Winston offered the "Winston Million" beginning in 1985 to any driver who could win the three "crown jewels" of the sport: the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 and Southern 500. Two drivers took home the prize: Bill Elliott in 1985 and Jeff Gordon in 1997, the last year Winston offered the million.

In 1998, NASCAR and Winston introduced the "No Bull 5" program offering a $1 million bonus to a driver who won a crown jewel race after finishing in the top five of the most recent crown jewel. Over the five years and 25 races of the program through Winston's final season as the Cup Series title sponsor, the $1 million bonus was won 13 times.

Additionally, NASCAR has been touting a $1 million incentive for the All-Star Race for over 20 years. The winner of Sunday night’s All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro will again get $1 million.

NASCAR first introduced a $1 million prize for the All-Star Race winner in 2003. The prize has stayed the same even as costs have gone up for teams over the last two decades . If NASCAR simply raised the All-Star Race prize at the rate of inflation to keep it equivalent to the 2003 award, Sunday’s winner would get $1.7 million.

Instead, NASCAR has stayed with a nice round $1 million for whatever reason. And it’s long past time for NASCAR to up the ante.

We wrote back in 2017 that the $1 million incentive for the All-Star Race had become outdated and that point rings even more true in 2024 as NASCAR has not only not raised the prize money for the All-Star Race but also added another $1 million event. While you can look at the addition of the in-season tournament as evidence of NASCAR willing to award more prize money to drivers and teams, it’s also hard not to wonder why the in-season tournament bonus isn’t $2 million, $3 million or even $5 million.

Just look at how prize money has evolved in other sports. In the summer of 2003, Shaun Micheel won just over $1 million for his victory in the PGA Championship. The 2024 PGA Championship concludes hours before the All-Star Race and this year’s winner is set to get over $3 million.

The winners of the 2024 French Open in June will get roughly $2.5 million. Men’s winner Juan Carlos Ferrero got just under $1 million for his 2003 victory.

And beyond increasing the financial incentive for teams that continue to bear the brunt of cost increases across the board in racing, touting a $1 million prize for over two decades is simply lazy marketing. The in-season tournament first floated by Denny Hamlin is being implemented with the goal of increasing fan interest through the races televised by TNT in 2025. It’s a noble goal and one worth exploring.

But why should fans continue to care about wealthier drivers and teams racing for a $1 million check? The bonus hasn’t driven interest in the All-Star Race. The event’s TV ratings have steadily declined over the past decade-plus. The 2023 event had just 2.2 million viewers. Do you really believe a significant portion of those fans only tuned in because the winner got $1 million?

Would more fans tune in if the money was doubled or tripled? Who knows. But NASCAR shouldn't be the only sports series where special event prize money has stagnated in the 2000s.