NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2009 Bud Shootout at Daytona Race Recap

The Key Moment: Kevin Harvick assumed the lead milliseconds before the caution flag flew, signaling the end of the race.

In a Nutshell: With the convoluted new format and dearth of attendance and excitement Saturday night, is it time to just call this Shootout silliness off?

Dramatic Moment: Waiting to see who was going to hit Greg Biffle next.

What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week

The folks at Daytona said they were lowering ticket prices to put fans in the seats in this tough economy. Apparently, they didn’t lower them enough. The crowd Saturday night would have been shameful at a Foghat reunion concert on some college campus.

I’m a little confused as to the analogies between Harvick’s win in the 2007 Daytona 500 and his win Saturday night. In 2007, the race was allowed to finish under the green flag, even as a massive wreck took place behind the leaders and cars were upside down and on fire. NASCAR defended their held flag that evening as saying on the last lap, anything goes. Well, Saturday night a far less severe wreck allowed Harvick to win under caution. So, which call will be made next Sunday? Damned if I know. I just work here.

This year, more than ever fans really need a program to keep the players straight. It sure is weird to see some driver other than Tony Stewart in the No. 20 car (albeit briefly) and Stewart at the wheel of the No. 14 car.

The tires at Daytona seemed to last only seven laps before giving up. That could make for a long race next week.

They’ve screwed the Shootout concept truly and well, haven’t they? In its original form, the race was limited to drivers who had won poles the previous season. It was a 20-lap sprint race, a little taste of things to come for winter-weary fans – sort of like that sip of wine the waiter gives you for approval before filling your glass.

HENDERSON: NEW BUD SHOOTOUT LIKE SHOOTING YOURSELF IN FOOT

Entry to this year’s concept is such a screwed up process that it doesn’t bear explanation as much as it does ridicule and contempt. Let’s suffice it to say while AJ Allmendinger, Joey Logano, Robby Gordon and David Stremme made the field, Ryan Newman did not. Newman, most of you remember, is the man who won last year’s Daytona 500 and remains one of the sport’s best qualifiers. Yes, NASCAR has long since strayed from the purity of the original Shootout concept with rules like allowing any previous Shootout winner into the field (to make sure Dale Earnhardt Sr. was in it – Earnhardt was not a great qualifier most seasons) but this year’s concept would make Dr. Seuss blush if it weren’t for the fact he’s dead as a doornail. About the only way to screw things up any further is to offer teams a chance to make next year’s Shootout by finding scratch and win cards in specially marked boxes of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.

Once again this offseason, Brian France indicated that he doesn’t look at his position as chief of NASCAR as a lifetime position like his grandfather and father did. He swears he’ll leave the sport… eventually. So, I guess all those long-term fans who have left the sport will return to NASCAR racing… eventually. If Gil Grissom were to study the format for this year’s Shootout in the crime lab, he’d doubtless find Brian’s DNA all over it. Nobody else with the power to make things happen in complete abeyance of common sense could have dreamed up such a farcical concept. A recent poll indicated that only 33% of fans are pleased with how Brian France is doing his job. Well, the last person of note to suffer such low popularity numbers recently returned to Crawford, Texas to join the 7.6% of unemployed Americans the recession he created has borne.

Meanwhile, the Top-35 rule and its consequences have certainly come to roost in the current economy. Teams need to have a spot in the Top 35 in points to be guaranteed a spot in this season’s first five races. So, they’re wheeling and dealing like Monte Hall to buy those positions towards the bottom rungs of the ladder, using points earned by drivers who no longer have rides and teams that won’t run entries this season to make this year’s races. Yeah, I think I just saw the White Rabbit of Lewis Carroll and Jefferson Airplane fame hopping across the infield at Daytona studying his pocket watch. Alice, babe, I love ya, but this tea is making me dizzy and the hookah-smoking caterpillars (who look suspiciously like Michael Phelps) are scaring me. Can I trade in this tea on a cold bottle of Corona and a cup of Folgers? Feed ‘jur Ed!

An old saying states that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Well, it doesn’t seem to be working with this Car of Sorrow a year after its first full season of competition. I still look at these misshapen troglodytes and feel like I’m biting into a lemon with dimes jammed in between my upper and lower front teeth. Since the government seems intent on spending tens of billions of dollars to fix woeful situations, perhaps a stimulus package could be devised to pay off NASCAR team owners to trash their fleets of CoTs and bring back something that more closely resembles a proper race car rather than a kiddie ride at Disney World on steroids.

Kyle Busch seems ready to start off 2009 with his first foot-in-mouth moment, resuming where he left off last year to continue generating the sort of loathing from the fans even his brother Kurt Busch could never match on his best day. Asked about the effects of the economy on the sport, young Mr. Busch thoughtfully opined, “I don’t even know how bad the economy is; I don’t pay attention to it. From what I hear, it’s bad and it’s in the tank. I’m still fortunate enough to be in the sport and have a job with Joe Gibbs and get paid well enough that I can still live the same I was living last year.” Let them eat cake, sayeth Kyle Antoinette, even while admitting for some working folk the last year might have been a little “sucky.” What’s the difference for them this year? When some fans throw empty beer cans at Kyle after a race, others will doubtless be diving over the fence to gather them up in order to collect the five-cent deposit on each.

One of the unintended dividends of the testing suspension policy this year in the Cup Series is to give the teams that are in the Shootout a decided advantage for next week’s big show.

Wow, didn’t see that one coming! What’s the real story behind the demise of the Daly Planet, Mike Daly’s daily blog on the state of NASCAR TV coverage? With Mike Mulhern, formerly of the Winston-Salem Journal (and now found at www.MikeMulhern.net) also MIA this season, folks who aren’t willing to partake of Brian France’s Kool-Aid in the media are now sleeping with their front porch lights on.

Wow, there are 57 entries (OK, 56 with James Hylton having thrown in the towel) for this year’s Daytona 500, a pretty considerable number all things considered. That points out one irrefutable fact. Even in a tough economy, Kenny Wallace won over $250,000 for finishing dead last in last year’s Daytona 500. That’s a pretty good chunk of change for any team that sneaks into the show. My guess is this year we’ll hear a lot less about the “Go or Go-Homers” and a lot more about the “Start and Parkers.”

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Biffle hit everything but the Powerball lottery Saturday night.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a perpetual threat to win at Daytona, and led some laps only to fall back into the clutches of the least common denominators late. He ended up with a thoroughly trashed racecar as result.

Pundits want you to believe in Logano as “Sliced Bread” – as in “the best thing since…” But maybe we ought to ought to call him Bread Crumbs after a crummy ride at Daytona Saturday night. Decent finishes are apparently not available in the checkout line at the Home Depot, even if you have 300,000 fans ready to drink the Kool-Aid.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Harvick didn’t show a lot of strength for most of the event, but was up front when it mattered.

ALLAWAY: HARVICK BATTLES BACK TO WIN BUD SHOOTOUT

A lot of folks, this writer included, questioned Stewart’s sanity in leaving Joe Gibbs Racing to throw in his lot with a team that is, to be kind, a perpetual underachiever. A third-place result in the Shootout was a pretty fair result for the newly reconfigured outfit.

Second place had to be disappointing for Jamie McMurray, who seemed to have the race in the bag as the final lap began; but with an average finish of 20th last year, it was a pretty decent way to kick off the season for the victim-designate of Jack Roush’s need to cut back to four teams in 2010.

Jeff Gordon threaded his way through several wrecks, sometimes at a walking pace, en route to a fourth-place finish. I guess Ella is sleeping through the night now.

Worth Noting

  • Only 13 of 28 cars in the Shootout were undamaged enough to finish on the lead lap.
  • Only two drivers, Gordon and Stewart, posted top-five finishes in the 2008 and 2009 Bud Shootouts. Kasey Kahne was the only other driver to post top-10 results in both races.
  • Stewart has finished in the top five in the Shootout every season since 2005, a pretty fair piece of work given the usual carnage.

What’s the Points?

This race is well and truly pointless, now more than ever.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): We’ll give this one three cans, only because it’s good to hear those un-muffled V8s driven in anger again after a long winter’s nap.

Next Up: The points paying portion of the season kicks off next Sunday with the annual plate-track madness of the Daytona 500. Ladies and gentlemen, let the carnage begin.

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