NASCAR Gets It Right With Budweiser Shootout Changes: It's About Winners

Kelly CrandallSenior Writer IDecember 24, 2009

The Budweiser Shootout used to be as iconic as the Sprint All-Star race. Both were Saturday night dash-for-cash events with only the biggest names were invited to compete. There were no points on the line as some of NASCAR’s best battled it out for bragging rights.

At least, that’s how it used to be.

The All-Star race will continue to host a select few drivers who have captured a checkered flag or won the event in the past, which makes them eligible for the race.

They truly are the best in the series.

When it came to the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona the same could have been said until recently. To compete in the first unofficial race of the new season, a driver had to have captured a pole award the previous year, or be a past winner of the event within the last 10 years.

They were truly the fastest in the series.

Both the Shootout and the All-Star race were a chance for the top stars in the sport to show who was superior and put on an incredible show for the fans. Those races always put butts in the stands even though they meant nothing in the grand scheme of things.

Then NASCAR changed the rules before the 2009 Budweiser Shootout.

Qualifying quickly became irrelevant, as winning a pole just meant a photo opportunity; it’s no longer a golden ticket to the Shootout. Instead of drivers putting emphasis on their starting position on Friday's, they spend more time getting a feel for their race setup.

In order be in the Budweiser Shootout, NASCAR made the eligibility open to the top six drivers from each manufacturer from the final year's owner points, as well as wild card drivers (those who had won Cup championships).

That meant anyone could now be in the event. It was no longer about the top stars who earned their way.

Under the 2009 rules, the following Chevrolet drivers would race in this year's Budweiser Shootout: Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Ryan Newman.

All of these drivers would be there under the format they earned their ways either by winning a pole, or by being a past winner of this event. They are big name drivers. This is their race, and they're the ones who make it what it is. 

Toyota would have been represented by: Denny Hamlin, Brian Vickers, Kyle Busch, David Reutimann, Marcos Ambrose, and Joey Logano.

Obviously, Ambrose and Logano are the two who don’t belong—t hey didn’t win a pole in 2009 and haven’t won the Shootout in the past. Nor are they past Sprint Cup champions.

With all the switches going on between Dodge and Ford, it was too tricky to speculate at that time which drivers would have been in the event.

However, looking at the chart of who could have raced made no sense. It shows the old Budweiser Shootout is gone and some drivers who have a shot at the bag of cash should not.

For example, Brad Keselowski, Sam Hornish, Jr., and AJ Allmendinger would have been in the 2010 edition. The question would have been, “What did they do to get there?”

Absolutely nothing.

And that’s a shame. But, just because they had decent finishes in points, they were shuffled into the field. Instead, they should have had to work, win, or do something to be there.

The Budweiser Shootout should be about showcasing drivers who have proven they belong by doing something to stand out. There are drivers who have won the event in the past 10 years who are back to show their restrictor plate skills. 

There wasn’t much difference in the 2009 Shootout with the new rules as the big names were all in attendance.

But, when the 32nd Budweiser Shootout takes the green flag on February 6, 2010, the change would have been more noticeable, since Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. would have been two drivers locked out of the field.

Two of the biggest names and popular drivers in the sport weren’t in the lineup at the sports grandest track, for one of its unique races.

Harvick and Earnhardt Jr. are the last two winners of the Shootout—2008 and 2009—and they both would not have had a chance to win it again since they were taken out of a race that was supposed to be about them.

If the fans are being pumped up for a Saturday night beating and banging dash for almost a million dollars, then only the top stars should be in the event. After all, it’s advertised as “the climax to a triple-header, a no-holds barred All-Star race with the top Sprint Cup Series stars.”

That doesn’t mean Ambrose, Keselowski, or any other driver who has never been there before and just received a free pass from the new rules. At least not yet they’ll all have their day on the big stage in the future. First, they need to prove they belong. 

For right now though, fans can tune in each Sunday to see them. The Shootout is promoted as the best and biggest names in NASCAR, the fan favorites, the winners. 

One would think fans would much rather see a field of such drivers like Brian Vickers, Kyle and Kurt Busch, Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Juan Pablo Montoya, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., since they all earned their way into the field.

NASCAR, thankfully, finally came to that conclusion as well. Wednesday morning they handed out an early Christmas gift, changing the format for the 2010 Budweiser Shootout. This time they got it right.

The Shootout will now consist of drivers that all deserve to be there those who have won races at Daytona in the past, were the best in the Series in 2009 by qualifying for the Chase, and have won past Sprint Cup titles. Even a rookie will get his chance to shine. They are the top drivers in the sport. They’ve proven it, and now they get a race to showcase themselves.

And don’t feel bad for David Reutimann, who is now on the outside looking in. He’ll get his chance to shine on a bright stage, a little thing we discussed earlier called the Sprint All-Star race in Charlotte.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.