The Budweiser Shootout: A long-standing tradition of NASCAR’s best drivers doing battle at the World Center of Racing to kick off the season.
My how things can change.
In recent years, one of NASCAR’s two all-star races has undergone many criteria changes. Just a few years ago, the Bud Shootout was an event that let only the previous year’s Pole winners, and previous Shootout champions, into the field.
After Budweiser ended its sponsorship of the Pole award in 2008, the Shootout criteria changed to let the best 6 drivers from each manufacturer into the race. Last year, the criteria changed once again to let any Daytona NASCAR winner ever into the race, as well as the previous season’s 12 Chase drivers, and defending Rookie of the Year winner.
Now, it seems they’re letting everybody in.
NASCAR announced last week that a new criteria is being added: any driver who has won the Rookie of the Year award from 2001-2010 can participate in the event. That brings the list of eligible participants up to 30.
A list that includes the winner of last year’s Rookie of the Year award, Kevin Conway.
Not to take anything away from Conway, but let’s face it. He won the award with literally no competition and has a best career finish of 14th, which came at Daytona after everybody else had already crashed out. Not exactly all-star-like stats.
And yet he’s in the race. But let’s not pretend he’s the only guy in the race who doesn’t deserve to be.
John Andretti, Geoff Bodine, and Derrick Cope all had their glory days(some lasted longer and were better than others’), but none of them have won a race at any level of NASCAR since 1999, when Andretti won at Martinsville. On top of that, none of these guys are even active, full-time drivers anymore.
Other notables in the race who probably shouldn’t be are Michael Waltrip, Terry Labonte, Ken Schrader, and Bill Elliott. Granted, I like Elliott. He was a huge part of the sport for a long time, he’s an awesome guy, and I love seeing him race. But he hasn’t been a full-time active driver in over 7 years, so having him in an all-Star event just doesn’t quite seem right.
As for Waltrip, the guy hasn’t accomplished anything in a race car at any level since 2004, when he won a fluke Nationwide race at Nashville after everybody crashed on the final lap. Labonte has run maybe 5 races since 2004. And even though I like Schrader, is it really fair to let a guy into an all-star event who hasn’t won a race at the Cup level in two decades?
I understand what NASCAR is trying to do here. By adding all these different criteria, they’re making sure their big stars get into the first race of the season. Kasey Kahne wouldn’t be in this year without the new changes, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. wouldn’t have been in last year without the new changes.
But is NASCAR making the race better by opening it up like this? In my opinion, absolutely not. This is suppose to be an all-star-type race, not an open house for the guys who have one big accomplishment 10 or 20 years ago.
By adding all these criteria, NASCAR is just butchering the Budweiser Shooutout.