2009-01-29 / Sports

New Format For Bud Shootout

By Gerald Hodges THE RACING REPORTER

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Dale Earnhardt Jr. The Bud Shootout, NASCAR's first nonpoints race of the season has so changed that it hardly resembles any previous Shootout. While most drivers haven't had much to say about the changes, Dale Earnhardt Jr., winner of last year's race, was quoted in "Sports Illustrated" as saying he didn't like the new format.

"It just sucks because I'm such a historian of the sport, and I just like all the history and I like all the cool things about the history," he said, "And I like looking back on the guys who were in this race in the '80s and '90s and why they were in it and how they got in it and who missed it the next year and made it the next year. Maybe there's nothing wrong with this new format. Maybe I just hate change. But I don't like it. I like the old format."

"They should just rename the 'Budweiser Shootout' the "Bailout Shootout" because the emphasis has been taken away from the drivers and put on the car manufacturers of the ailing automotive industry."

The race used to be an All- Star event, featuring all the pole winners from the previous season. Last year Budweiser dropped its sponsorship of the Pole Awards. Coors, Budweiser's rival beer-maker, picked up the sponsorship, so NASCAR had to make changes, so Coors wouldn't receive publicity at a Budweiser event.

The race will now feature the top-six teams from each car manufacturer. Last week, NASCAR added a revision that will allow a "wild card" entry for each manufacturer, which increases the field to 28 cars.

The previous races were like real "Shootout" races, with as little as 20 laps per segment, but now it appears it will be just another race.

With the rule change for 2009, four pole-winning drivers lose out on making the race: Paul Menard, Ryan Newman, Joe Nemechek and Patrick Carpentier.

"Whether we like it or not, let's get over it," said Darrell Waltrip.

"Don't worry about the format or how so and so got in. It's the opening race of the 2009 season. There will be cars on the track running under the lights. Isn't that really all that matters? They haven't messed up the Bud Shootout. It's a race and when that green flag falls, the guys are going to be after that trophy fighting tooth-and-nail. Just be glad we have the Bud Shootout and trust me, it will be fun to watch either from the grandstands or at home on the couch!"

The race will be held Saturday, Feb. 7, 2009.

Meanwhile Brian France told the newsmedia at Charlotte last week that NASCAR would draw on its strength as an organization to work through the tough economic times.

Throughout, the message was clear that despite the current economic challenges the sport is facing, NASCAR is wellequipped to carry on, move forward and assist other components of the industry to do the same.

"In tough times like these, strong people tighten their belts, put a little extra zip in their step and focus on the things they do best," France told a crowd of more than 200 media. "In our sport, that's racing … and no one does it better than our drivers and teams."

"The NASCAR management team has been extremely busy this winter, working with teams and tracks to keep our sport moving in the right direction. One of the key areas we're zeroing in on is helping our teams develop new business models to fit today's ever-changing economy. We're exploring ways to manage costs. We're working with our media partners to explore additional ways to take our product to our fans. And we're meeting with our tracks to brainstorm new promotions for ticket opportunities."

Labonte is going with Hall of Fame

When Bobby Labonte signed with Hall of Fame Motorsports to drive the No. 96 Ford in the sprint Cup Series, many in the business wondered why he chose to drive the No. 96 instead of the No. 8 for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.

The HOF team is not considered one of the strongest teams on the Cup circuit. They recently signed some type of agreement/ merger with Yates Racing for the 2009 season.

"There were a lot of ifs in there (EGR)," said Labonte. "It was kind of wild, like a horror movie, with drama and all of that. Everything wasn't 100 percent wrong, it just wasn't 100 percent right."

Tom Garfinkel and business partner Jeff Moorad bought a majority interest in HOF twothirds through the 2007 season.

The team struggled on the track last year, and with only partial sponsorship from DLP and finished 2008 outside of the top- 35 in points.

"It's going to take time in NASCAR, but if we didn't think eventually at some point we could be competitive in the sport, then we wouldn't have done this," Garfinkel said.

Garfinkel has known team owner Doug Yates for more than a decade. He also said he sat and talked with people from the Fenway Sports Group, co-owner of Roush Fenway Racing, at a Diamondbacks Red Sox game.

"Yates was already ramping up, so in a lot of ways, it was a great marriage," Garfinkel said. "They had a team in place. They had the equipment already in place for Daytona, and we were able to bring sponsorship dollars and some assets and some other thoughts on how we wanted to do things and merge it into what they already had in place."

Waltrip might be leaving

I like Michael Waltrip. He is a super nice guy. If he sticks by a statement he made last week, then a lot of fans, including myself are going to miss him after the 2009 season.

Waltrip said one of his goals for the 2009 Sprint Cup season is to run up front.

"But if I don't do those things, if I can't compete at the level that my teammate David Reutimann does, then I probably won't get to do this again in 2010," he said.

"This is a real important year for me because I still love it," Waltrip said. "'I'm still emotional about it. That's a great feeling. I'm glad I have that. I'm glad I feel the way I do, and I'm also glad that I own my car, because if this is my last year then I'm fine, because that means I got somebody faster or better than me to drive my car in 2010, and that's how it was supposed to be.

"I'm not going to be standing around thinking, 'Well, what am I going to do now?' I know exactly what I'm going to do now, I'm going to continue to try to influence my drivers and my team and my sponsors to be the best team that we can be."

Next week: Let's get ready for the 2009 season

Racing trivia question: Do you think Michael Waltrip should retire? We'll give you the fan response next week.

Last week's question: Who won the first Daytona 500? Answer. Lee Petty.

You may contact the Racing Reporter at: hodgesnews@ earthlink.net.

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