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Not Given In: Budweiser Shootout

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2006 Shootout winner Denny Hamlin leads Jimmy Johnson, teammate Tony Stewart, and Mark Martin.
The good news is that the wait for the return of NASCAR is nearly over, and the bad news is that it's coming in the form of the Budweiser Shootout, a seasonal tradition where everyone that was lucky enough to have "won" a pole from the previous season gets to have a non-points event just-for-fun race right before speed weeks ramps up.

It can be mildly entertaining if your guy happens to have qualified for the race and has the potential for more if he actually wins it, but on most occasions I've found the race to be a real drag. People only try hard if they've found good setups and the only real benefit to the participants -- millionaires most of them -- is money and prestige, neither of which carry over into the season.

The shootout carries some of the same flaws that the mid-season all-star event does: past winners are eligible ad infinitum, and the setup has too many gimmicks. As it stands now, the race is split into two unequal segments which are divided by a ten minute break. What kind of race stops in the middle intentionally?

The older drivers who get into the race on past winners provisionals always end up falling to the back of the pack because they are racing in questionable equipment and are well past their talent primes. Sometimes I can't tell if it's a race of pole winners or an old timers day reenactment from their glory days.

A typical field means about 43 cars on the track, but with the shootout it's more like fifteen or twenty. Take the three or four past winners that usually show up just for the money and have no chance at winning because they are seriously over the hill, along with the four or five guys that have bad teams and just got lucky winning probably their only pole in their career, and finally the three or four guys that just miss the setup or bring a junk third-tier backup, and you've only got a handful of people competing for the win at the end of the race.

Now you know Jr. will be there at the end, along with Jimmy Johnson and Jeff Gordon, and right there you've got three people locking up spots at the top every year, out of maybe seven that have any real shot at winning. Two guys at least will have mechanical problems or wreck, which leaves you with five.

Last years rookie of the year Denny Hamlin won the Shootout, then went on to win two races and make the Chase, which in a way I suppose should have told people right away that the kid has some serious talent. On the other hand, it kind of made the shootout look like a laugher at the time. We're talking about a kid who hadn't even won a Busch series race, much less a cup race before. Should there be requirements for the shootout beyond winning poles?

Pole winners already get to pick the first pit stall, start the race in first, and if I remember correctly win money as well. Do we really need to have another race to add to the 39 others? I think the answer is an unqualified no.

Winning a pole is all about the engines and the shop guys now, it has little if anything to do with the drivers, so why do we need another vanity race that has nothing to do with skill?

Racing in the Cup series isn't anything like other major sports, these guys live and die by the willingness of their sponsors to pay for their ride. They have to travel all over the country all week to whore their sponsors stuff or they're stuck sitting at home on Sundays watching football.

It's time to take the gimmicks out of the all-star race and put the shootout to bed, and give these guys another week of well deserved rest.

The Budweiser Shootout will air February 10th on TNT.

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The text of this article is Copyright © 2006,2007 Paul William Tenny. All rights reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. Attribution by: full name and original URL. Comments are copyrighted by their authors and are not subject to the Creative Commons license of the article itself.