FOX Sports Exclusive
Speed Reading: NASCAR's original all-star race
When they hit the lights for the Budweiser Shootout on Saturday night (8 p.m. ET on FOX), the 2007 NASCAR Nextel Cup season will finally be underway. Sort of. The actual season won't actually take the green flag until Daytona 500 qualifying on Sunday (2 p.m. ET on FOX)... or maybe until the Duel 150s on Thursday (2 p.m. ET on SPEED)... or maybe not actually until the Great American Race on Feb. 18 (2 p.m. ET on FOX).
So, let's take a deep breath and look into the mirror as we ask ourselves this collective question is the Budweiser Shootout even necessary anymore?
"It is totally necessary," says two-time winner Tony Stewart with a grin. "Especially for the winner because it pays like 200 grand."
Gee thanks, Smoke. But what about those of us who won't be winning any bank? And what about the 20 guys who don't get a trophy or get to kiss the girl? Is this event really worth a Saturday night?
Let's break it down.
Do You Want An Appetizer?
But in the age of Preseason Thunder at Daytona and Las Vegas, the Lowe's Motor Speedway Media Tour, Daytona Media Day and nightly coverage on an alphabet soup of cable channels, do we still this kind of pre-500 warm-up? And we already have an all-star race in May, right?
Best of the Best
The field for Saturday night's event is more than twice the size of the original '79 race. On one hand, that's a testimony to the competitiveness of the sport. On the other, 21 guys might be too many to truly call the field elite.
For the record, Saturday night's event will start with a 20-lap segment, followed by a 10-minute break, then finishes with a 50-lap segment that includes a mandatory green flag pit stop. The total distance is 175 miles.
How many times will the FOX crew have to explain that during the telecast? Too many.
Help or Hype?
However, these days, there's plenty of drafting practice to go around. With the top 35 teams protected by provisional starting positions, there isn't so much emphasis on one-lap testing and more drafting time has been added to test schedules. Once teams have qualified on Sunday, there will be nearly four-and-a-half hours of drafting practice and the Duel 150s before we get to the Daytona 500. Add that to the fact that the Shootout is run at night while the 500 is in the heat of the day and little if no data obtained from the Shootout is likely to survive the week leading into the Great American Race.
So, does the Budweiser Shootout really mean anything? Not really. Does it have any real impact on the outcome of the Daytona 500? Nope. Does the winner of the event instantly become an immortal to forever be ballyhooed within the sparkling NASCAR Hall of Fame? Absolutely not.
Will I be watching? Damn right I will.
Ryan McGee is the managing editor at NASCAR Images.