Saturday, December 26, 2009

Budweiser Shootout Format Changes...Again

Earlier this week, NASCAR announced that for the second year in a row, there will be a new format for selecting drivers to compete in the Budweiser Shootout. This time, drivers will be selected based on a number of eligibility factors.

First, the 2009 Chase participants are to be entered in the race. Next, any past series champions are eligible who have raced in the past two seasons, including any driver who has won either a previous Budweiser Shootout or any points paying race at Daytona. Finally, Joey Logano will be in the race because he won the 2009 Rookie of the Year award.

So, what does this all mean? Well, rarely do the non-points events have the same rules from year to year, but now the format of how to choose the drivers is the part of the race that is changing. I understand that Budweiser no longer wanted to have the previous season’s pole winners in the race because Coors Light now sponsors the pole award. But, that move was what kicked off another downward spiral for this race.

Winning the pole now means nothing more than starting at the front of the field and having the chance to select the first pit stall. I always felt that the Bud Shootout was special in the fact that it awarded drivers for something other than winning a race or even how their entire season had gone. In the past few years guys like Joe Nemechek would have to run partial schedules, but by qualifying well at a place like Talladega, they were able to run the Bud Shootout the following year. That is no longer the case.

Now this race is just like every other gimmick race in that it will have the same basic drivers year after year. For the most part the drivers in the Chase remain fairly consistent from year to year, and the past series champions will never change. I thought past champion eligibility was reserved for the All-Star race.

However, if we are going to go down this road, I do like the idea of having past Daytona winners entered in the race. Sometimes drivers who do well at Daytona and Talladega are different than those that are traditionally at the front of the field each week. But, overall this is just another case where corporate sponsorship got in the way of a good race.

Changing the format for the manufacturers last year was a bad idea that had no real staying power. Eventually a manufacturer was going to leave the sport or one would enter the sport. Either way, there would be a group of cars that were not as competitive as they should be for this race. To illustrate how bad an idea this was, only one year into the change, one of the manufacturers now has only three full-time cars in the series, thereby leaving open holes in the field.

So, once again, changes had to be made. But like many things in the sport over the last five years, if the first change had not been made, none of the following changes would have been necessary.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Rating the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: 3.6 Stars ***'

The 2009 season has come to a close and the awards have been handed out, so now it is time to take a look back on the fond and not-so-fond memories from a season filled with rain, action on the track, new rules, debris, spectacular crashes, spectacular finishes, and history with Jimmie Johnson winning the Sprint Cup for the fourth consecutive year. This all adds up to a 3.6 Star Rating for the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.

To assemble the rating for the season, Monday Morning Crew Chief went back through the ratings from each race this season, excluding the two non-points events and the reader’s choice Watkins Glen edition, and averaged the ratings. So, that means according to the ratings, the season was almost directly between OK and fairly good. Late in the season the complaints started to roll in more heavily about the problems in NASCAR. There are problems, but as a whole, the sport is still not doing too badly. As in other sports, no matter what goes on around the game, the game will always remain. Racing has been around longer than most of us, and they will continue to race long after we are gone.

Here is the breakdown of ratings throughout the season:

5 Stars: 5 races

4 Stars: 16 races

3 Stars: 10 races

2 Stars: 3 races

1 Star: 1 race

The 5 Star races were, interestingly enough, all run on either short tracks or superspeedways. Our first 5 Star Rating came in the Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville. There was close racing throughout the race and the final laps came down to a duel between Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson with Johnson nudging Hamlin out of the way in turns three and four and taking the victory.

Next came the Aarons 499 at Talladega. This was a race that certainly had everyone talking the next few days. On the final lap of the race Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski paired up and roared to the front. However, coming through the tri-oval on the final lap, Edwards made a move to block but the rookie held his ground and Edwards was sent flying into the fence in one of the most dramatic moments of 2009.

Up next was another superspeedway, this time Daytona in the Coke Zero 400. After the 500 had been rained shortened, everybody was excited to get a full race in under the lights on July 4th. Throughout the night Tony Stewart had the best car but found himself behind Kyle Busch coming to the line. Similar to the Edwards-Keselowski incident, Busch tried to come down and block Stewart but was instead turned up into the wall creating the big one at the finish line.

The fourth 5 Star race was the final regular season race of the season. On a Saturday night in Richmond, getting into the Chase was all that mattered in the Chevy Rock & Roll 400. Denny Hamlin got the win in his home state, but the real battle was between Kyle Busch and Brian Vickers as they fought for the chance to race for the championship. This one was not decided until the checkered flag flew and Vickers raced his way into the Chase and Busch was left shaking his head, missing the Chase by a mere eight points.

Finally, in the most controversial race of the season, NASCAR pulled on the driver’s reins just hours before the start of the Amp Energy 500 at Talladega. With penalties in play for bump drafting in the corners, the drivers played it safe until all heck broke loose in the final 10 laps. Heading into Turn 3, Ryan Newman got turned around and went airborne, landing on his roof after sliding up the track and back down with many flips in between. Then, on the final restart of the race, another big one occurred and championship contender Mark Martin got flipped upside down and, as Carl Edwards’ wreck at Talladega did the year before, may have cost Martin the championship.

So now after looking at the best parts of 2009, I want to mention a few things that can be improved upon going into next season. First, cut it out with the debris cautions. The fans hate it, the drivers hate it, even Darrell Waltrip hates it.

“We've also become predictable with debris cautions to bunch the field up or stopping the race with those red flags,” Waltrip said in a recent article on “If you know who is going to win or be in the top 10 every week, isn't it common sense that folks are going to lose interest and find something else that excites them?”

However, before we all jump on the NASCAR haters’ bandwagon, there are other people in the sport that can do a better job. Yes, I’m looking at you Casey Mears. Drivers such as Mears, Jamie McMurray, David Ragan, and others of that same breed need to step up and make something happen. I know we hate the field fillers at the back of the pack, but these guys have more or less been field fillers in the middle of the pack. Please, somebody step up in 2010 and make some noise. I’m not sure how long sponsors will continue to hang on to these guys year after year.

Overall, the 2009 NASCAR season was pretty good. As with every season there are good times and bad times, but I think we can all look forward to better racing in the coming years. I think/hope NASCAR learned some valuable lessons from this season and will take steps to improve the sport as time moves forward.

Throughout the winter Monday Morning Crew Chief will have different articles regarding offseason news, rumors, and opinions. Thank you to everybody for reading this season and have a wonderful holiday season.