While having fun is a big part of NASCAR's All-Star race, there's a serious side to the non-points event, too.
Heading into the sprint race at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., Jeff Gordon was seeking to keep up the momentum from two straight top-10 Sprint Cup finishes. He finished ninth at Richmond and third in Darlington to move to 10th in the season points heading into next weekend's Coca-Cola 600 on the same Lowe's 1.5-mile oval.
Gordon is also aware that in years he won the All-Star race (1995, 1997 and 2001), he went on to win three of his four Cup championships.
"We all look forward to it because of the excitement, the prestige, the bragging rights and the million dollars that goes to the winner," he said. "There are no points on the line, which means there is less pressure on the teams. But it seems there is more excitement surrounding the event.
"You just have fun and race hard. Most importantly, though, I think it's a great race for the fans. You hope it's a great race for them because that is really what this event is all about. It's sort of giving back to the fans for their support and everything they do for us."
Gordon, tied with the late Dale Earnhardt for the most wins in the 150-mile All-Star race, said his favorite win in the event came in 2001 when he crashed at the start and wound up winning in a backup car.
"There is such a buildup prior to the race that is was deflating to be involved in a crash in the first corner on the first lap because the track was wet," Gordon said. "Then we got word we could run the backup car, and to see all the Hendrick Motorsports teams working to get the car ready was incredible.
"Winning that event was a testament to HMS and the guys on the DuPont team."
So, what does it take to win the All-Star race, which is broken up into four segments of 25 laps?
"You have to be aggressive," Gordon explained. "You only drive different in this event because it's basically a short, sprint race. It's going to be tough to win the race just being consistent. That's not going to work in the All-Star event. It's about being aggressive in the pits and being aggressive on the race track. It's about going all out."
Carl Edwards, a Cup star and the reigning Nationwide Series champion, has some ideas about a possible all-star event for NASCAR's top developmental series.
"It would be fun if once a month [the Nationwide Series] had a race that wasn't for points," Edwards said. "They could start with Talladega. It's fun to race when you don't have any points on the line, when it's really just a race.
"I think that's what so much fun about going and doing races like the Eldora [late model stock car] race or the all-star race or the Bud Shootout. Everybody knows that once that checkered flag falls it's over. There are no repercussions competitively after that."
Edwards said what makes an all-star race special is that drivers and teams can take a different strategic approach since no points are on the line.
"I think that everybody races as hard as they can every week anyway, so an all-star race isn't going to be much different. But, because of the points thing, you might see people gamble a little bit more on pit strategy or do all the things that you always see at all-star races.
"There have been a lot of people wreck at that place just because it's kind of a no-holds-barred race, so I don't know if the Nationwide Series would be any different. It would be exciting though."
NASCAR's so-called Car of Tomorrow has now been run in 27 Cup races -- 16 last year in its debut and the first 11 this season. Still, not everybody has a handle on them.
"These cars are just different," explained Greg Zipadelli, veteran crew chief for two-time Cup champion Tony Stewart. "It seems like we're still learning and you're always going back with different things. Obviously, it's a lot better than last year at this time when we were going to race tracks where we really didn't have a lot of experience with this car.
"The All-Star race gives us another opportunity to learn what this car likes in similar conditions to what we'll have next week when we come back to Charlotte for the 600."
The Car of Tomorrow is being run full-time this year, but Zipadelli says the teams still have a lot to learn about the new car.
"It's funny," he said. "We did learn a lot [last year], but you still feel like you don't have anywhere near the knowledge you need to fix them sometimes when you have problems. They are so different than what we had before. There's a lot of ways to skin a cat right now with these cars, so choosing the right way with the practice time you have is really important."
Despite running a limited schedule, having missed three of 11 events this season, Mark Martin is ranked 26th in the Sprint Cup standings, ahead of 11 drivers who have competed in more events.
In addition, Martin's four top-10 finishes are more than 19 drivers who have taken part in all the races in 2008. Martin's two top-fives are as many or more than 21 drivers who have competed in every event this season.
The veteran, who was taking part in his 19th straight All-Star race this weekend, is sharing the No. 8 Dale Earnhardt Inc. Chevrolet this season with rookie Aric Almirola. Together, they have driven the entry to 15th in the current car owner standings.