Danica Patrick - NASCAR photo from Daytona International SpeedwayEnlarge Photo
With an exciting 25-combatant 2012 Budweiser Shootout in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rear-view mirror, the sanctioning body has decided to return to eligibility roots for next year's Bud Shootout.
Next season's field will consist of 2012 Coors Light Pole winners and past Shootout winners who have attempted to qualify for at least one racing during this 2012 36-contest season. The objective is to put greater emphasis on each weekend's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light Pole qualifying session, and with this change eligibility rules for next season's annual non-points race that starts Speedweeks mirrors those from 1979-2008.
"Fans have expressed their desire to see this event return to its original eligibility rules," reasoned Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR's senior vice president of racing operations. "We listened and decided it would be best to return to the eligibility rules of years past, adding further meaning to pole qualifying for each NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race."
NASCAR made the announcement prior to qualifying for this coming Sunday's Daytona 500, adding even more intrigue to an already important event. Carl Edwards, who secured the Daytona 500 pole position has now earned the second spot in next year's Shootout.
On Saturday night, Kyle Busch won his first Bud Shootout at Daytona and he, too locked in his place in next year's Shootout field. After nearly being wrecked twice, Busch passed reigning series champion Tony Stewart in the tri-oval, edging Smoke by a victory margin of 0.013, the closest finish in Shootout history.
In 2011, 18 different drivers won a Coors Light pole position in 36 races.
After Sunday's qualifying, NASCAR said it will review its regulations that allow teams to take on another teams' points to ensure their drivers qualify for Sprint Cup races. Under the rules, the top 35 in owners points from the prior season are guaranteed race spots in the opening five Cup rounds. This principle has led to various deals and partnerships between teams to get drivers into the field for the Daytona 500.
The most widely known of these deals is the alliance between Stewart-Haas Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing that ensures rookie Danica Patrick a start this Sunday. Michael Waltrip Racing did a similar deal for veteran Mark Martin, who joined the team this year.
"These deals have come together later and later," O'Donnell noted, "which is more and more challenging to explain to our fans. So do you look at a deadline at the end of the season where we put things in place?" he asked while still noting these types of alliances could be positive for the sport.
"If you go back into history, there have been a lot of partnerships that have been put together that have allowed teams to get back on their feet a little bit. This is part of that as well," O'Donnell reminded. "I would say helping Tommy was a part of this. Obviously we can't show favoritism but that's part of the best interest of the sport, having an owner like Tommy Baldwin be healthy. For us, that's a good thing."