Last week, NASCAR announced the new criteria for drivers to make it into the season-opening All-Star-ish race, the Budweiser Shootout. For a race that for many years used to contain only the previous season's pole sitters and any living previous winners of the Shootout (formerly known as the Busch Clash, and as my buddy Rick suggested when the name was changed to the Bud Shootout in 1998, "they could change the name to a different Anheuser-Busch product every year. Next year, it could be the Michelob Melee. Or maybe the Tequiza Tangle." And so it has remained simply "The Tangle" in our race fan shorthand), the new criteria are a fair bit looser:
- Last season's 12 Chase for the Cup drivers.
- Any past Winston/Nextel/Sprint Cup champion.
- Any past winners of the Clash/Shootout/Melee/Tangle/King Cobra Carambolage.
- Past winners of any points-paying race at Daytona (i.e. no Twin-125 or -150 winners, sorry, Ricky Rudd!).
- Series Rookies of the Year from the 2000s.
* Any driver who qualifies under the above rules must have participated in any points paying Cup race in the last two years. Too bad for you, Greg Sacks and Ken Bouchard.
By my way of seeing, the new rules were put in place in order to assure that up and coming NASCAR drivers like Kasey Kahne and Joey Logano (and their high-visibility sponsors, Red Bull and Home Deopt, respectively) would be guaranteed to make the race, but it has also ensured that several lower visibility drivers, namely John Andretti, Derrike Cope, Ken Schrader, Geoff Bodine, Terry Labonte, Sterling Marlin and last year's series RoY, Kevin Conway, are also eligible for the race. Seeing as how Conway managed to qualify for the alleged "All-Star" race with a grand total of three career top-30 finishes (you read that right), I think that NASCAR could have gone even further in making sure that their first race of the season is as inclusive as possible.
With a tip of the hat to Tom Jensen of SpeedTV.com and his, um, interesting suggestions for freshening up the Chase for the Cup (which I could spin into its own 3,000 word critique, but I'll fore go for the time being), here are my top-5 suggestions for freshening up the Bud Shootout:
1) Allow in any driver in the top-10 in points from any NASCAR Touring Series. Some folks might say that this is a great idea in order to see some young talent like Cole Whitt or Bobby Santos, but I think we'd be even better served by being able to see some "less famous talent" from the NASCAR underseries, like Dexter Stacey or Rogelio Lopez.
2) Pick one lap, randomly picked and unannounced beforehand, sometime during SpeedTV's 23 HOURS of Daytona testing coverage, and whoever is leading the biggest draft pack on the track on that random lap gets into the Shootout. You want to make 23 hours of random cars circulating, trying out different setups and drafting with different people seem semi-relevant? No better way than to make it the world's most meaningless lottery! Everybody will be driving toward the front of every pack on every lap of testing! We'll have crashes galore as guys spend every day practicing their blocking techniques! Carl Edwards will probably punch every other Cup driver at least once before the end of Speedweeks! What could go wrong?
3) Allow in the highest ranked driver from the previous season's IndyCar standings who is appearing at Daytona in a stock car. Then, have a clam bake with tainted seafood for all drivers who finished ahead of Danica Patrick, just to be safe.
4) (Courtesy my buddy Rick) Anybody hanging out at the Daytona Beach Hooters at 2:00 on the Thursday before the Shootout is in.
5) Employ somebody who has some experience in giving away rides to select who gets in. This could be her final blockbuster giveaway to trump all her previous giveaways! "You're in the Shootout! You're in the Shootout! You're in the Shootout! You're in the Shootout!" And after all, doesn't everything with her seal of approval on it rake in millions upon untold millions of dollars?
Looking for a ratings surge? Pick any of these five suggestions, and it's a guaranteed 14.0 rating. You're welcome, NASCAR. My bill is in the mail.