The new Gen-6 cars will debut at Daytona this weekend
In 1979 when the first "Busch Clash" was run at the Daytona International Speedway, it was really simple. The race was a 20-lap shootout between drivers who won a pole the year before. So it was easy to follow. All during the season, when a driver won a pole, you knew he was now going to be in next year's Busch Clash.
But as they years wore on, NASCAR started tweaking the event. At first, the tweaks were needed because the race was so short that drawing a top spot was almost mandatory if a driver wanted to win. So they came up with the idea to invert the field at the halfway point and pay a fat bonus for leading halfway.
It sounded good at the time but what it created was an incentive to "sandbag" in the first segment to get up front in the second segment. Anytime sandbagging is encouraged just rubs fans the wrong way.
Another problem was if a handful of drivers dominated qualifying in a season, it made for a very small field. There were some Busch Clashes run with fewer than 10 cars. That was too small.
Then there was the length of the race which was way too short. A 20-lap race at Daytona is over in about 15 minutes. So the race was lengthened in increments. It was stretched to 30 laps, then 40 to where it is now at 75 laps.
There have been so many changes over the years that now if you asked the typical fan what it takes to qualify for the Sprint Unlimited (first of all the name of the race is new, so they probably won't even know what race this is), they likely won't know.
Over the years, it's gone from pole winners, to past champions and pole winners, to past champions pole winners and past winners of this event, and even a fan vote. The field went from being too small to being where practically everyone is in.
What should the format be for the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona?
What needs to happen with this event is there needs to be some kind of balance between too big and too small, and also too short and too long.
So how should we do this "All-Star" non-points, "checkers or wreckers" race to kick off every season at Daytona? Here is what I would like to see happen if NASCAR asked my advice:
First, make it an 80-lap race. Daytona is 2.5 miles. An 80-lap event is exactly 200 miles. The ARCA race that is typically run that same day is 200 miles. So why not make it a 200 mile race? If you want to go 250 miles, I would not complain about that either.
Second, get rid of all these "segments" and "mandatory pit stops." That's not racing. Part of racing is running the 200 miles as fast as you can. Put in green flag pit stops.
And finally, decide on a qualifier and stick with it. If it is pole winners, then make it pole winners and only pole winners. If the field is too small with that, then include front row qualifiers. If it is past Sprint Cup Champions, then make it past Sprint Cup Champions. Whatever NASCAR decides to go with, stick with it. That way people know why these guys are in the field.
This year, fans are able to vote on the starting lineups, also how many laps are in each segment and whether to eliminate cars at certain points of the race. What is this? A Survivor episode? Enough already.
Just give us a format we can follow: a race with 200 miles, first one to get there wins, and we'll be fine. Leave the reality TV stuff to MTV and VH1.