By: Toby Christie – Senior Writer
In other sports such as the NFL, NBA, or NHL, all-star exhibition events are a joke, where their athletes basically go through the motions just hoping to make it to the end of the event without injury. In NASCAR, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Every year, NASCAR runs two exhibition events that don’t contribute in any way to points-paying events. There is the Sprint All-Star Race in Charlotte every May where drivers put it all on the line for a one million dollar bonus. And annually, the season begins with the Budweiser Shootout in Daytona.
This season a record amount of drivers are eligible to compete – 30 – and that isn’t the only record in jeopardy of falling in the no-holds-barred thrill ride.
Only four drivers in the 32-year history of the Budweiser Shootout have ever won the race back-to-back. Neil Bonnett, Ken Schrader and Tony Stewart were the first three to accomplish this feat. Kevin Harvick joined this prestigious list last year when he took his No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet across the finish line first for the second straight season.
Harvick, just like the others who have won this race back-to-back, was unable to capture the Daytona 500 in either of the two seasons he won the Shootout.
This year Harvick rolls into Daytona with a sleek new black Budweiser paint scheme, and if he can take home the trophy Saturday night in his sponsor’s event he will be the first and only driver to ever win this race three years in a row. In addition to his two victories, Harvick has only finished outside the top 10 once in his six Budweiser Shootout starts (that happened after an engine failure in 2006).
If Harvick or any of his Chevrolet comrades can capture the checkered flag in this year’s race, the manufacturer will continue to distance itself from the rest in this race that has a history of producing fireworks. In all, Chevrolet teams have won this event 19 times and they have won every Budweiser Shootout since Dale Jarrett won it in 2004 in a Ford.
Speaking of Ford, they are second on the manufacturer’s list with seven Budweiser Shootout victories, while former manufacturers Buick, Oldsmobile and Pontiac have two victories each. Dodge and Toyota have never tasted victory in this race.
Regan Smith and Kevin Conway will look to add their names to the list of Buddy Baker, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Dale Jarrett and Denny Hamlin as drivers who have won the Budweiser Shootout in their first ever attempt.
The Budweiser Shootout is a good teaser for fans who are tired of a offseason empty of racing, but does success in the Budweiser Shootout really translate to a victory in the Great American Race? In 32 previous runnings of the Budweiser Shootout, only five times has the winner gone on to win the Daytona 500. Bobby Allison (1982), Bill Elliott (1987), Dale Jarrett (1996, 2000), and Jeff Gordon (1997) are the guys who were able to do so.
Of the guys who have won both the Budweiser Shootout and Daytona 500 in the same season, only two of them have been able to also capture the pole for the Daytona 500 in the same week. Dale Jarrett (2000) and Bill Elliott (1987) were able to complete the clean Speedweeks sweep.
The Budweiser Shootout, as any race at Daytona, has been known to produce great finishes. The closest ever margin of victory in the Budweiser Shootout was .08 of a second when Dale Earnhardt edged Sterling Marlin to the line in 1995. Also, seven times a driver has made a race winning pass on the final lap, despite not leading any laps at any other part of the race. Dale Earnhardt (1980), Neil Bonnett (1983-84), Rusty Wallace (1998), Dale Jarrett (2000, 2004) and Kevin Harvick (2009) were all able to pull this off.
Now, I know I have been among the majority that have been vocal about the new eligibility rules that have allowed 30 guys to compete in this race and I still think it is quite ridiculous, but in the end the beautiful thing is that if all 30 eligible drivers compete it will be just as action packed as if 19 guys were in it. Throw in the new track surface and anything can happen.