New twist, old friends in 2010 Shootout

December, 29, 2009
Derrike Cope has a spot in the 2010 Bud Shootout. For the younger fans who may not know, he won the Daytona 500 -- 20 years ago.

Sixty-year-old Geoffrey Bodine, who hasn't raced in a Sprint Cup event since 2004, is invited to jump in a fire suit and take the wheel.

John Andretti also is in, thanks to his last Cup victory 11 years ago. Ken Schrader, Sterling Marlin and Terry Labonte also can compete in the Daytona event, if they so desire.

I guess they'll make up the old-timers portion of the field. A few of these guys were all-stars in the past, but those days are long gone.

"Given the changes in the sport over the past year, we feel this new format gives fans a true race of champions," said Mark Wright, vice president of Anheuser-Busch.

That it does, present and past. Way past.

The new format for the non-points race, which kicks off the NASCAR season, lets in almost everyone this side of Richard Petty. Heck, they might let The King in if he asked.

OK. I'm having a little fun at NASCAR's expense. Actually, I've been a big proponent of this event. Unlike the NFL and MLB, it's a one-game-only preseason involving some of the biggest stars of the sport.

And they really care about winning. That's all they care about. No points racing in this one.

But the new eligibility rules for the Shootout are a bit laughable. The truth is NASCAR officials had to do something to make this "all-star" type show more appealing to the fans.

For most of the 31 years of its existence, the field for the Shootout came from pole winners in the previous season, along with previous winners of the race.

But winning poles isn't what it used to be. Other than gaining a good pit spot, starting on the pole is almost meaningless at many Cup races.

Only 11 drivers won a pole last season. Some darn good drivers didn't win one -- Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle, to name several.

Even tossing in former Shootout winners, such as Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr., a lot of the best drivers in Cup wouldn't have a chance to compete in the 75-lap event.

NASCAR first recognized the problem a year ago, but changed the former to a convoluted system that guaranteed spots for each manufacturer.

It didn't work, so NASCAR has changed it again. The new format will allow 28 drivers to compete in the Shootout on Feb. 6. All 12 Chase drivers are eligible, along with previous Shootout winners who competed in the Cup series the last two seasons.

The "compete" element is a bit misleading. A driver didn't have to qualify for a Cup race. He only had to make an attempt to qualify.

That gives Bodine a spot if he has a ride. He made two attempts in 2009 without making the field.

Also eligible are past Cup champions, past Daytona winners (the 500 or the 400) and the reigning rookie of the year (Joey Logano in 2009).

That brings the grand total of eligible drivers to 28 for the 2010 event. Seven of those no longer race full time. Cope raced once last year and Schrader hasn't driven a Cup event since 2008. Oh well. The more the merrier. "We're always looking at ways to make this event bigger and better for our fans," Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition, said last week when the new rules were announced. "We believe the new format puts together an exceptionally strong lineup of our top drivers."

However, it can't feel too good to non-qualifiers Clint Bowyer and David Reutimann seeing Andretti and Cope in the race. Bowyer finished 15th in the 2009 standings. Reutimann was 16th in 2009 while winning a race and two poles. Those are the breaks. Everybody can't get in, although most of the drivers that fans want to see, including Earnhardt, are in the field. Earnhardt has victories in all three Daytona events -- the two annual Cup points races and the Shootout.

One factor in the change was to place the best Daytona drivers in the event.

"We thought placing an additional emphasis on drivers who had performed well at Daytona over the years would create an even more compelling element for the fans," Pemberton said.

And if that includes a few "once-were" guys and a couple of "never-were" drivers, so be it.

Terry Blount

ESPN Staff Writer



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