Sprint Unlimited: Leave it to the fans
Photo by Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images
Tony Stewart (14) is involved in a multi-car crash during the 2014 Sprint Unlimited. With the format set to change for 2015, our Brandon Caldwell says the format should be decided by the fans.

By Brandon Caldwell
December 22, 2014

DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

Once upon a time, way back when, NASCAR decided on making a race for the bunch of drivers who were the fastest cars of the previous years. The put them all into one race, for money, and a trophy, and it was always one heck of a show.

From the race’s inception, from 1979-2008, the rules varied little, only adding a stipulation for past winners of the event to make it to the race, in addition to the pole winners from the season before. NASCAR finally decided to reward the guys who have proven they could win again; a move that made all of the sense in the world.

Then in 2009, logistics took over. The Bud Pole award became the Coors Light Pole Award, and Budweiser no longer wanted poles the reason why drivers were making the race. So they came up with another idea.

They decided to allow the top-four finishing cars in the previous year’s point standings from each manufacturer, as well as one wild card team from each of the next 4 highest in points… Craziness. This format only lasted one season.

In 2010 they came up with another format. The 12 Chasers, previous Budweiser Shootout winners, Previous wins at Daytona, Previous Cup champions, and previous rookies of the year drivers from the last decade.  This format lasted through 2011.

Photo by Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images
Denny Hamlin leads the 2014 Sprint Unlimited.

In 2012 another change, which included the top-25 in the previous season’s point standings, as well as past winners of the event, as well as any other Daytona race winner not already in via the previous requirements. Basically NASCAR was trying to cover all of their bases.

Then in 2013, the name changed. The Budweiser Shootout became the Sprint Unlimited. The format went back to “the old way.” The previous season’s pole sitters were once again rewarded with a place in the Sprint Unlimited, because many of the fans were confused about the format in previous seasons.

The 2014 race was a good show, just like the previous season’s, and for the first time in a while, fans finally understood who was in the race, and understood what it took to make the race again. The race was a good show with the pole winners in it.

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images
Denny Hamlin comes to the checkered flag at the 2014 Sprint Unlimited.

And yet, for some reason before the 2015 running, NASCAR has decided on another change.  The pole sitters from 2014 will be in the race, and added were the Chasers from the previous season, as well as past Daytona pole sitters who have competed in all of the races in 2014—The Danica clause.

NASCAR and the media’s interpretation of this is that they’re doing this for “the fans!” But that’s the furthest thing from the truth. The fans do want to see Danica in the race, well most of them anyway. And that’s fine. But if NASCAR can just change the rules at will, anytime they want, whenever they want to benefit whoever they want, then why have stipulations at all?

It’s for a shield; a shield and trying to pull the wool over fans eyes so it doesn’t look like NASCAR is doing this to benefit one particular driver. But with the strict testing limit, especially the cancellation of pre-season Thunder testing for the Daytona 500, it will benefit Patrick significantly, to have that extra test session, even though drivers like David Gilliland for Front Row Motorsports earned a pole, and should have that advantage over a powerhouse Stewart-Haas Racing team. But now they don’t.

Instead, what we have are 25 drivers who will compete for a trophy. It means nothing for any driver via the point standings, but the trophy should be for the fastest of the fast from the year before.

Again, I don’t care that Danica is in the race. It’s a preliminary exhibition race; I just can’t stand the abuse of power, and having something force-fed.

Why don’t we just let the fans pick their top-25 drivers that they think should be in it, if we’re going to change the rules every year anyway to get the drivers they want in anyway, why not let the fans pick their favorites?

Because it’s not about the fans; it’s about NASCAR, and about pleasing GoDaddy.com and giving them an extra race that they didn’t earn. And yet, we wonder why Danica needs to be in the Sprint Unlimited to sell tickets. It is moves like this that have drawn fans away for years.

We’ll see if they respond. Stick to your guns, and make All-Star races about the performance on the track, and not about their sponsors or popularity. Nothing will ever change if those things don’t first. Imagine if the Major League Baseball chose their all-stars every year. Yup, no one would watch that game either!

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