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Think you can win an IRL race? IndyCar has $5 million that says you can't

Photo by Brian Jones

Photo by Brian Jones

LAS VEGAS -- The IndyCar Series is putting up $5 million for any driver who thinks he or she can beat the open-wheel professionals at their own game in their championship race in Las Vegas.

IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard issued the invitation Tuesday as the series announced its season-ending world championship would be held at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 16.

"A very important element of our sport is that these are the best, fastest, versatile race car drivers in the world," he said. "Well, we're here to put our money where our mouth is."

Up to five outside drivers can compete in the race if they're picked by a selection committee and qualify on the track the weekend of the race, then win the race outright to collect the $5 million, he said.

"There's some pretty big steps in there. But we're looking for the best drivers in the world and the selection committee's not going to let (just) anybody have an opportunity to race against the best drivers in the world," Bernard said in an interview after the announcement at the Crystals mall at CityCenter on the Las Vegas Strip.

Star power and ability will be considered as the committee issues invitations, he said.

Given the criteria, the list of drivers who might consider the crossover challenge is short. Drivers would need an IndyCar ride capable of winning the race, and would likely enter just for a shot at the cash -- which they'd only get with a win.

NASCAR drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Tony Stewart are possibilities, but neither has raced the type of cars used in the race for a while. Other possibilities include former Champ Car driver A.J. Allmendinger, Formula One driver Scott Speed, and Kurt Busch, who has dabbled in NHRA and drives for Penske Racing in NASCAR.

It's not clear whether Speed or former three-time IndyCar champ Sam Hornish Jr. would be able to secure an invitation given that neither have Sprint Cup Series rides right now.

The invitation adds a wrinkle to a race that drivers say is sure to deliver a close finish because of the speed and banking of the oval track. The world championships are the finale of a 17-race schedule, with points going toward the title.

"It's going to be a bit of a crapshoot -- anyone can win," said Ryan Briscoe, an Australian driver who finished fifth in the series last season, with one win in 17 starts and eight top 5 finishes.

"If you're running fourth in the championship and still have a mathematical chance at winning, you could very easily be the guy just because of how close the racing is going to be," he said.