Speed Reading: NASCAR's original all-star race

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Ryan McGee

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?
The inaugural Busch Clash took place on February 11, 1979, created to stir up some post-Super Bowl hype for NASCAR and CBS Sports, one week before the Daytona 500. It worked. A made-for-TV showdown that wasn't watered down with field-fillers, just the pole winners from the previous season. NASCAR's original all-star race.

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
When the inaugural Busch Clash took the green flag on February 11, 1979, it was packed with more studs than Oceans Eleven. The nine pole winners from the previous season included Darrell Waltrip, Buddy Baker, Cale Yarborough, Benny Parsons, David Pearson and Neil Bonnett, a group of dudes who would eventually combine to win 414 races and 11 Cup titles. Over the last 28 years, it has been the playground of guys like Dale Earnhardt, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Bill Elliott.

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.

That format for the first dozen Bud Shootouts was simple and clean — 20 laps, 15 minutes, no pit stops, go get it. In the 16 years since, there have been six different formats, so much change that casual fans have lost track. We've had two 10-lap segments with one inverted, 20 laps followed by an inverted 10 laps, a 25-lap race among second day qualifiers followed by a 25-lap race, a straight-up 25-lap event and finally a 70-lap race with a break in the middle.

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?
One of the great arguments for the Budweiser Shootout has come from the drivers themselves. "For a long time, it was a chance to get a jump on the other teams for the Daytona 500," says Mark Martin, who will participate in his record 19th consecutive Shootout, but first in a Chevy. "For so many years, all of our time during testing in January was spent for that one-lap qualifying. You get so anxious to get out there and draft and see how your new car is in traffic, and the first chance you got to do that was in the Shootout."

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.

Saturday on SPEED/FOX
10 a.m. ET: NASCAR Live on SPEED
10:30 a.m. ET: Cup practice on SPEED
12:30 p.m. ET: NASCAR Live on SPEED
1:30 p.m. ET: Cup practice on SPEED
3 p.m. ET: NASCAR Live on SPEED
4 p.m. ET: ARCA race on SPEED
6 p.m. ET: NASCAR RaceDay on SPEED
8 p.m. ET: Budweiser Shootout on FOX
10 p.m. ET: NASCAR Victory Lane on SPEED
10:30 p.m. ET: The SPEED Report on SPEED
Sunday on SPEED/FOX
1 p.m. ET: NASCAR Live on SPEED
2 p.m. ET: Daytona 500 qualifying FOX
6 p.m. ET: NASCAR Live on SPEED
7 p.m. ET: The SPEED Report on SPEED
Busch Beat
NASCAR released its official race schedules earlier this week, featuring TV start times and specific lengths and lap counts. The most notable details revealed were those surrounding the Busch Series event in Montreal on August 4. The road course event will measure 200.5 miles, which translates into 74 laps around the world renowned 2.709-miles Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

Truck Stop
Bobby Hamilton Racing will hold a press conference next week to discuss its plans to move forward without owner and namesake Bobby Hamilton, who lost his battle with cancer one month ago. Hamilton's wife, Terri, is expected to announce the team's new management structure, a structure that will not include Bobby Hamilton Jr., who left the team following his father's death due to concerns about "the way things are going over there."

Why We Call Richard Petty "The King" Fact of the Week
The King only qualified for one Budweiser Shooutout, finishing 11th in the second edition of event on February 10, 1980 at the age of 41. It's a shame the race for previous year's pole winners hadn't existed sooner, because his Royal Fastness won at least one pole position every year through 1977. With the exception of 1976, he won at least two poles per year, topping out at 18 in 48 races during the 1967 season.

This ain't your daddy's NASCAR

Mattel has unveiled its latest addition to the legendary Barbie collection, the famous blonde bombshell decked out in the colors of NASCAR's two biggest stars — Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Barbie has gone racing before as part of Petty Racing's 1998 Mattel-sponsored Pontiac, but this is the first time she's declared her loyalty to specific drivers.

Speed Mail of the Week
Helen in Monroe, Wash.: "Are they planning on any ceremony for Dale Senior on the sixth anniversary of his death? I would like to see something. He was the greatest and much loved for his racing and feel. It would be appropriate for something for him. Thanks."

Ryan McGee: Helen, there are no formal ceremonies on the schedule, but honoring Dale on that anniversary was one of the motivating factors behind Teresa Earnhardt's business plan for the new documentary film Dale, narrated by Paul Newman. It premiered in Florida this week and will be coming to your neck of the woods in Seattle from July 31-August 9.

Speed Mail Ryan

Tagged: Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Bobby Hamilton Jr., Mark Martin

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