The money is big and the prestige for winning the Brickyard 400 at historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway even bigger.

But many drivers covet a victory here Sunday for a much more important reason.

"Winning this race could be a real springboard for somebody trying to get into the championship battle," two-time Brickyard winner Dale Jarrett said.

Under NASCAR's new title format in the Nextel Cup series, only the top 10 drivers after the 26th of 36 races will be eligible to win the lucrative championship.

The race winner Sunday will earn more than $400,000, but the series champion will walk away with $5.28 million, just from the series points fund. Overall, including contingency awards from sponsors, the title will be worth close to $10 million for the champion.

Most of the drivers bidding for a spot in what NASCAR calls the "Chase for the Cup," prefer to talk about taking the last six events before the 10-race championship playoff one race at a time.

But there is little doubt Sunday's 400-mile event could play a key role in determining which drivers eventually get the shot at the big prize.

"Every race is crucial at this point," said Jeremy Mayfield, 11th in the standings and 40 points behind 10th-place Kevin Harvick, the defending Brickyard champion. "You need to finish in the top 10 or the top five and you need to build momentum that can carry you into the last 10 races."

Ryan Newman, eighth in the standings and just 52 points in front of Harvick, echoed Mayfield and Jarrett.

"Mathematically, these races are all the same, but it's getting to be crunch time as far as gaining and losing points," Newman said.

Series leader Jimmie Johnson and the rest of the top six in the standings look to be all but guaranteed spots in the championship chase, but just 194 points separate sixth-place Kurt Busch from 15th-place Jamie McMurray.

Busch knows firsthand how quickly momentum can turn.

He felt pretty secure in the points race after winning two weeks ago in New Hampshire. Then a broken transmission sent him tumbling to 26th place Sunday at Pocono, costing Busch one position in the standings and moving a handful of drivers within striking distance.

Mark Martin, 13th in the standings but 89 points behind Kenseth, has also seen the momentum shift in a hurry.

"We may make it, we may not. I want to approach this race like the championship chase is out of the question for us. I don't want to be disappointed."

Worker Killed

A longtime member of the track safety patrol died Friday of injuries suffered when he lost control of his motor scooter and crashed into a concrete barrier in the infield at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The name of the deceased was withheld pending notification of relatives.