The Frontstretch: Full Throttle: Shootout is the Last Chance to Honor Stars of the Past by Mike Neff -- Thursday February 2, 2006

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One week from Saturday, the Budweiser Shootout will be run to kick off the 2006 NASCAR season. A non-points paying event designed to showcase the pole winning drivers from the previous year of Cup competition, the race itself is set up as a no-holds barred dash for the cash. However, there is one other element to the race that is sometimes forgotten by the people who broadcast, as well as those who watch the race. Any previous winner of the race is automatically entered for the rest of their Cup driving career, provided they have run a race in the previous season of Nextel Cup.

There was apparently quite a bit of discussion about changing that qualification starting with the 2006 race, with talk that only winners from the previous 10 years of the event would be entered. Such a rule would have put a damper on the rich history of the sport, ignoring the legends of the past deserving of a spot in the field.

Such a rule would have especially been troubling in the modern era of NASCAR, where historic tracks have lost race dates or been shuttered completely, the focus of NASCAR turning to corporate sponsorship and chasing demographics. In fact, in my opinion there are only two practices left in Nextel Cup that ensure a reward of past success. There’s the Past Champion’s provisional, which gives the most recent Cup champion who has not qualified on speed or points a starting spot in the field of any Cup race..the second is simply the previous winners’ exemption into the Shootout.

If the rules had been changed this year, three storied race drivers would not have had the opportunity to compete in the Shootout: Terry Labonte, who won the Shootout in 1985 (although he is not currently planning on running the event), Bill Elliott, who last visited Victory Lane in the Shootout in 1987, and Ken Schrader whose last Shootout win occurred in 1990. These three drivers have either not competed full-time in Cup or have not been competitive for poles in the current Cup environment. However, they have a long legacy in the Cup series and deserve to be afforded the honor of running the Shootout because they were good enough to win it on a given day.

Editorial comment: Another race that should be modified to allow previous winners to compete to the end of their career is the Winston (I know, I’m old school). The Winston only allows previous winners to compete for 10 years. Due to the fact that it is a non-points race and is designed for entertainment, it should be altered to allow previous winners to compete as long as they are active in the series.

North Wilkesboro and Rockingham are no longer on the Cup schedule. Riverside and Ontario are shopping malls or residential neighborhoods. Plymouth and Oldsmobile no longer exist. One of the last links to our past is the previous winner exemption for the Shootout. Let’s not turn our back on history anymore…the winners of the Shootout deserve a spot in the race for as long as they want to compete.

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Recent articles from Mike Neff:

Thinkin' Out Loud – The Off Week Season Review
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