Sprint Unlimited Field Expansion Shows NASCAR’s Biggest Problem


On Monday night NASCAR announced an expansion of the field for the February 14th Sprint Unlimited from Daytona International Speedway. The race, which use to be called the Busch Clash or Budweiser Shootout, has had several different formats over the past few seasons.

The Busch Clash began in 1979 as a race for all the pole winners from the 1978 season. Busch beer, which sponsored the Busch pole award then, wanted to create a race for the pole winners on NASCAR’s fastest track. It started out as a 20 lap sprint to see who was the best of the pole sitters. The race went through a series of changes including an increase in the number of laps and cars in the field. Even the name of the race changed from the Busch Clash, to the Bud Shootout, to eventually the Budweiser Shootout.

The way you qualified for the race remained with the same format all the way through the 2007 season. That’s when Coors Light bought the sponsorship of the pole award. Budweiser, which still sponsored the preliminary event at Daytona, no longer wanted the pole winners in the race since the pole winners were sponsored by a rival beer company. That led to an array of crazy formats that at one time saw 28 cars in the Budweiser Shootout. The race had several wild formats from 2008-2012 and almost turned the race into a gimmick.

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That all changed in 2013 when NASCAR announced that Budweiser would no longer sponsor the primarily event to the Daytona 500. Instead, series sponsor Sprint would sponsor the event and the race would go back to the old format of pole winners and former events winners. The race was received very positive by fans as an easy and simple way to understand the race and a way to control your own destiny to be in the race. Over the last two seasons the Sprint Unlimited has been a fine display of racing and there was really nothing wrong with the way the field was set.

However, in 2015 NASCAR has changed the format once again. Pole winners and past winners of the event will still be included but in the announcement Monday NASCAR announced that past Daytona 500 pole winners and the 2014 Chase drivers are also now included in the field for the Sprint Unlimited. The change added eight more drivers to the field. A.J. Allmendinger, Martin Truex Jr, Aric Almriola, Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards and Danica Patrick. The field of will now consist of 25 drivers.

So what’s the big deal? The Sprint Unlimited is a non-points event and is suppose to be fun for the fans and adding big name drivers to the field will increase fan fare. What’s wrong with that? The simple reason is star power.

Danica Patrick is the main driver everyone will look at as the reason NASCAR added those eight drivers to the field. Patrick, who has quickly become one of NASCAR’s most popular drivers, won the pole for the 2013 Daytona 500 and is locked in to the Sprint Unlimited field via that achievement. Although Patrick has been a extreme disappointment in her first two years in the Sprint Cup Series her merchandise sales are up and she increase ticket sales.

It just looks bad for NASCAR to create a rule to get one of their biggest stars in the race. Patrick knew that the only way she could qualify for the Sprint Unlimited was to sit on a pole for the 2014 season, which she failed to do. Based on that fact there is no way Patrick should be in the race since she could control her own destiny on qualifying into the race.  However, NASCAR put her in the race by creating new rules for so the race will increase ticket sales and ratings.

NASCAR has always been accused of favoring big named drivers and on Monday night they proved that sometimes those accusations are warranted.