How will NASCAR’s $1M In-Season Tournament work? What should fans make of the new event?



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NASCAR on Monday announced it will have its own In-Season Tournament in 2025, a 32-driver bracket challenge in the summer as part of its new TV partnerships with Amazon Prime and TNT Sports. Drivers will be seeded based on a three-race performance at the end of Prime’s portion of the Cup Series schedule, then begin the five-race tournament during TNT’s coverage.

The format is simple: The higher-finishing driver from each head-to-head matchup (which takes place during standard Cup Series races) advances to the next round, and the overall winner gets a $1 million prize.

How it will work

NASCAR said seeding will be determined by each driver’s performance over the final three races on the Prime Video schedule, with tiebreakers determined by best individual-race finishes and ultimately regular-season points, if needed.

The first race on TNT will then feature 16 head-to-head matchups within the larger race as the bracket-style event unfolds from there, setting up additional storylines within each race beyond just who’s at the front.

NASCAR has not yet released its 2025 schedule, so we don’t yet know which races will be featured in the tournament. Amazon and TNT Sports will have five races each, a stretch expected to start in late May and continue into August.

The tournament won’t impact NASCAR’s regular season or playoff points system.

How this came about

Last year, NASCAR driver/team owner Denny Hamlin had an idea: Why not juice up the middle portion of NASCAR’s long slog of a 38-race schedule with an NCAA Tournament bracket-style challenge?

On Hamlin’s podcast, “Actions Detrimental,” he tracked the weekly results, invited listeners to play along and had the mythical “champion” (William Byron) make a guest appearance at the conclusion of the tournament.

At the same time, Hamlin urged NASCAR to come up with an actual prize for future seasons and implement his idea in real life.

Well, now it has (albeit with no acknowledgment of Hamlin in Monday’s announcement).

Hamlin has already announced he will conduct his own bracket challenge again this season, but it’s likely NASCAR wanted to throw a bone to its new TV partners and give them additional content when they begin broadcasting next season. The NBA debuted an In-Season Tournament this year just as it is seeking a new round of media rights deals.

How will this impact the racing?

In theory, this should positively improve the on-track product while heightening fans interest. Currently, if there is a fierce fight for position towards the back, fans may be indifferent. But in tournament races, that battle could carry potential stakes, giving the telecast more storylines to spotlight for battles that might otherwise go largely unnoticed. And drivers incentivized to race even harder is only a positive for fans watching.

Will fans respond?

This seems like something fans, both ardent and casual, would embrace, especially with a relatively straightforward format. But will they? Longtime NASCAR fans have had lots of new elements thrust upon them over the past few decades, many of which weren’t warmly embraced. And some longtime fans have been quite outspoken that they don’t want NASCAR emulating stick-and-ball sports, preferring their sport to remain different. For this tournament to be successful, fans must get behind it.

Is this the new Winston Million?

For many years, NASCAR had a bonus program that awarded extra money to the winners of certain races, most notably the Winston Million, in which a driver could win a $1 million bonus if they were to win three of four select races. Drivers and fans supported it, and for many years, it added another subplot during a long season. This tournament could be a modern-day version.

Two things that should help the tournament find its footing: This is occurring during a summer stretch that sometimes lacks buzz, and in no way does it affect the regular season or overall championship, thereby negating any potential criticism that NASCAR keeps implementing unnecessary tweaks. If anything, this could improve the quality of racing on the track.

What we think of it all

There’s really no downside to this at all, and Hamlin should be properly credited for pushing a great idea. Not only will it provide something else for fans to keep track of during TNT’s portion of the schedule, but it should be fun for drivers as well; both Hamlin and Byron said they thought about last year’s mythical challenge at times during the races, and that was with nothing on the line.

And, of course, a huge plus in today’s sports world: It will also give NASCAR a reason to attract bettors during the summer months when it is only competing with Major League Baseball. People will pore over stats and track history to figure out which drivers are good at certain types of circuits, and it will add an enjoyable talking point during a typically dry time of year for NASCAR.

(Photo of Kyle Larson celebrating his $1 million win at last year’s All-Star Race: Chris Graythen / Getty Images)





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