Bud Shootout nothing like the Busch Clash
  Once upon a time, in the world of NASCAR,                             there was a race called the Busch Clash.    Dale Wilkerson

            This was a very special race that was created for very special racecar drivers. The very first Busch Clash was held in 1979. Most races back then, the fastest 40 cars earned a spot to race, but the starting spots for the Busch Clash were reserved for the fastest of the fast. The only way a driver could race in the Busch Clash was if that driver won the Pole Position for one of the races held the year before. A driver known for having a lead-foot won the first Busch Clash. Buddy Baker drove his black and silver #28 Oldsmobile 442 to victory. That first race was a great story and it was followed by several more good stories as well.
            The Busch Clash was held as a prelude to the Daytona 500, and these races served as a good tune up for the drivers. But something else made these races special. The race distance was only 50 miles, or 20 laps around the high-banks of Daytona. The fans new that all the drivers would be dropping the hammer at the start and keeping that pedal to the metal for all 20 laps. As good as the first races were, the folks from Busch and NASCAR felt the need to make changes.
            When the late Dale Earnhardt failed to earn a pole one year in the early nineties, the rules for earning a starting spot were altered. NASCAR decided to let any driver who had won the Busch Clash to start it each year, whether that driver had won a pole the year before or not. For the most part, the fans liked this because it meant more cars would be on the track, and normally, more cars mean better racing. Not long after this change, it was determined the race needed pit stops, more laps, and also it needed a break between some of these laps. So the perfect Dash for Cash among former pole winners would never be the same, and after the recent changes for the 2009 version of The Clash, which is now known as the Budweiser Shootout, it is no longer a race for pole winners anymore. This will now be based on Car Owner's Points. Each manufacturer; Ford, Dodge, Chevrolet, and Toyota, will be entering their top six teams from the final standings in 2008. Juan Montoya, for example, won a pole in 2008 driving a Dodge. Since his team has switched from Dodge to Chevrolet, he does not get a spot in the race. The six Chevrolet spots went, three each, to Rick Hendrick and Richard Childress.
            Even with this major change, NASCAR looked and decided another Big Name driver was going to be missing the race. Back in the 90's I called the former Clash Winner's clause the Earnhardt Clause. This year the new rule could be called a Smoke Screen. NASCAR has ruled that each manufacturer will be allowed one wild card entry for the Budweiser Shootout. These spots must first be awarded to any former NASCAR Sprint (or Nextel or Winston) Cup Champion, who competed in all of the 36 races during the 2008 season.
             So, Tony "Smoke" Stewart, and his new Chevrolet team, will get the wild card spot for Chevrolet. Bobby Labonte, with the 96-ride now being a Ford, will garner that spot. The Dodge and Toyota teams' spots are still up in the air. It all depends on when Robby Gordon decides to switch from Dodge to Toyota, and if the #22 Toyota team, formally owned by Bill Davis, finds a sponsor and a driver.
            Nothing against any of these guys, but even when a rule is made NASCAR finds a way to bend it again, in this case, probably hoping to sell more tickets. Here's a thought, cut the ticket prices. Fans do get a double header, with the ARCA teams running a 200-mile race, before the shootout. That fact, with lower tickets should provide a good selling point. I suppose that since these are the first races of the year, and fans will have the lure of the sunshine and palm trees of Florida, NASCAR doesn't see the need to cut the price of admission to sell more tickets.
            The Shootout itself has lost a lot of it's luster with the two segment format, and the addition of more laps. Even with this being a non-points race, NASCAR still counts the caution laps. This is advertised as a 70 lap race and that is what fans should see, 70 laps of racing. Normally ten to fifteen laps end up being run under caution due to crashes or debris on the track anyway.
            In recent years though, most of the racing in this event is just follow the leader. With all the restrictions on testing this season, perhaps the drivers will race harder to see what they have for the Daytona 500. Yes, I do miss the old Busch Clash. Watching Buddy Baker drive away from the pack in the first one back in 1979, cringing as Ricky Rudd spun off turn four and rolled Bud Moore's Thunderbird in 1983, watching drivers like Neil Bonnett, Dale Earnhardt, Ken Schrader, and Bill Elliott tear through the field to take the checkered flag, and then drive to the Winner's Circle without doing a burnout or drawing donuts in the infield. Yes, the Busch Clash was one of the best shows during Speedweeks at Daytona.
            This was one of my favorite NASCAR races over the years, but with all the changes that have taken place with the format of this race, now this is just another race.