Winning the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona International Speedway can be a nice shot in the arm for a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver and team as they prepare for the real start of the season eight days later. If nothing else, a victory in the 75-lap exhibition event builds confidence for the next weekend’s Daytona 500, the race that every competitor in his right mind wants to win more than any other. And of course, whoever wins the Shootout takes home a bucketload of cash and celebrates beneath a colorful array of fireworks lighting up the nighttime Florida sky.
So exactly what does it mean to triumph in this always action-packed, non-points-paying affair at The World Center of Racing?
That’s because winning the Shootout is rarely, if ever, a true indicator of how a driver and his team will fare in the 36-race regular season.
To put matters into perspective, consider the plight of the two most recent Shootout kingpins, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. After claiming the 2009 Shootout in dramatic fashion with a big outside push on the final lap, Harvick went on to score exactly zero points-paying victories over the rest of the season. He finished a dismal 19th in the standings and ran so poorly that he indicated on more than one occasion that he’ll likely bolt from his ride at Richard Childress Racing when his contract expires at the end of 2010.
Meanwhile, two drivers who crashed in the Shootout – Hendrick Motorsports’ Jimmie Johnson and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin – ultimately combined for 11 wins and placed first and fifth in the standings, respectively.
Want to bet that Harvick would’ve gladly traded his Shootout hardware to be where Johnson and Hamlin ended up?
Ditto is likely true for 2008 Shootout victor Dale Earnhardt Jr., who electrified the Daytona crowd by going to the winner’s circle in his first start – if you really want to call it that – with Hendrick Motorsports.
While many observers believed Earnhardt Jr. would translate his momentum from the Shootout into a standout regular season, it didn’t happen. He won just a single points-paying race – on fuel mileage, albeit – and finished a disappointing 12th in the final standings. To put it in simpler terms: He was a big flop.
Speaking of HMS, care to guess what happened the last time Johnson, the four-time defending series champion, sipped the Shootout champagne?
He didn’t – I repeat, DID NOT – win the championship.
In fact, one must go all the way back to 2006 – the year of Johnson’s first title – to find a Shootout winner who finished in the top five in the points standings. That driver was then-rookie Hamlin, who came home third in points on the heels of a stronger-than-expected regular season highlighted by two wins. Hamlin’s success, though, is clearly the exception and not the rule where recent Shootout champions are concerned.
So, if some uninformed soul tells you that winning this Saturday night’s high-speed sprint at Daytona is an omen for more success in the campaign to come, don’t even bother to listen.
History proves otherwise.
And history doesn’t lie.