The Budweiser Shootout is definitely what you would call a NASCAR tradition even though it has gone through several changes since its inception in 1979.
The event that marks the beginning of another season originally began as the Busch Clash before changing its name in 1998 to the Bud Shootout. It was changed to its present name in 2001.
While the event was going through name changes, its format was also being tweaked from time to time. The intent of the Shootout always was to provide exciting racing in a form totally removed from the normal 500 miles of racing that fills the Cup schedule all season long. The race has always embraced Daytona’s reputation for high speed by making sure the format of the contest was more like a sprint than an actual race.
The latest edition of the Shootout will see the total number of laps change from 70 to 75 that will be divided into two segments. The two segments will consist of 25 and 50 laps with both green and yellow flag laps counting toward the total of 75 laps. After the first segment there will be a 10-minute pit stop that will allow pit crews to change tires, add fuel and do the normal adjustments made on the chassis during a regular pit stop.
The biggest change to the Shootout this season is how the field will be set. Until last season, Budweiser had been the official sponsor of the Sprint Cup pole award and used that award to set the field for the Shootout. Pole winners were automatically in the following season’s Shootout under the format, but that has changed beginning Saturday night when the field will be set according to manufacturer.
This year’s starting field was originally going to consist of the top six teams of 2008 from each manufacturer, but that number has been increased to seven as each manufacturer will now be allowed to add a wild card entry into the lineup for Saturday night. Eligibility for the wild card entry will be for an owner who has a past Sprint Cup champion as a driver and did not finish in the top six last season. If an owner/manufacturer doesn’t have a past champion then the next highest owner in the final 2008 standings will be eligible to compete in the race.
Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Richard Childress Racing and Roush-Fenway Racing will all have multiple entries in the event with Roush leading the way with five cars. The biggest winner of the additional wild card spot is two-time former Cup champion Tony Stewart. Since he left Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of the season and is now in a Chevrolet, he wasn’t guaranteed a spot in the field as all six of the Chevy spots belonged to the powerhouse operations of Hendrick and Childress. He will be making the first-ever start for his own Stewart-Haas Race team on Saturday night thanks to the additional wild card entry for being a past champion.
There will be no points on the line Saturday night, just some bragging rights for the winning team and manufacturer but that is somewhat short-lived as the following day the business of racing for the 2009 Sprint Cup championship gets underway with front row qualifying for the season-opening Daytona 500. The rest of the field isn’t set until the completion of the Gatorade Duel 150’s later in the week.
Daytona is the sport’s super bowl and there shouldn’t be any worry of not having enough teams attempt to qualify to fill the field. The nation’s economic woes have drastically reduced the number of teams attempting to run the entire schedule, but with this being the biggest race on the Cup schedule, the car count on qualifying day is expected to be close to 55, which is more than enough to fill the 43- car field.
Besides being the biggest race of the season, Daytona also hands out some hefty checks to every team that qualifies. The total purse is expected to be around $19 million with the last place finisher pocketing $250,000. Besides the money there is always the outside chance that some under-sponsored team will run good enough to catch the eye of a sponsor that will back the team for the rest of the season.