Sep 1, 2008
If you look at the 2008 vehicle sales figures, you’ll see that the auto industry is at a pretty low ebb these days. And among the manufacturers that are suffering the most are the domestic carmakers -- General Motors, Ford and Chrysler -- that have been the biggest supporters of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing. Even Toyota, which joined the party a few years ago, is laboring this year, so the switch to a manufacturer-centric format in next year’s preseason Budweiser Shootout at Daytona International Speedway couldn’t be timed better.
Rather than featuring pole winners from the previous year, the field in next year’s Shootout will feature a field of 24 cars, pulled from the top six teams, representing each of the four manufacturers. That will accomplish several things: First, it will give each of the car manufacturers, whose sponsorship and technical contributions are the backbone of the sport, a promotional boost and a chance to gain bragging rights. Second, it will favor highly financed, multicar teams, giving them another place to shine. And finally, it will de-emphasize the pole winners in each race, which is a win for Budweiser since the pole awards are sponsored by rival brewer Molson Coors. Along with announcing the format change, Budweiser also announced that it had renewed its contract to sponsor the shootout for three more years.
As always, change brings winners and losers. The new format means that Patrick Carpentier, Paul Menard and Joe Nemechek will not qualify to run in the event, despite the fact they have won poles this season. Two-time Cup champion Tony Stewart and the 2008 Daytona 500 winner Ryan Newman won’t make the field either because by switching teams next season, they will be out of the running. Both are moving to teams affiliated with Chevrolet -- Stewart from a Toyota team and Newman from a Dodge-affiliated team.
In addition to changes in who qualifies, there has also been some minor fiddling with the format. The race distance will be increased from 70 laps to 75, and it will consist of a 25-lap segment and a 50-lap segment with a 10-minute intermission in between. Teams will be permitted to send their cars to the garage during that 10-minute “halftime,” but they will not be permitted to make major changes like swapping out springs or shock absorbers. Starting positions will be determined by lot, and the event will be flagged off on February 7, 2009.
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