Eligibility for the 2013 Budweiser Shootout is to be overhauled, NASCAR organisers announced on Sunday - although to many there's a familiar 'back to the future' feel to the revamp.
This year's event guaranteed places to the top 25 drivers in 2011 championship points, together with any previous winners of the Shootout or the Daytona 500 who had still been competing in Cup events during the past 12 months.
But next year the eligibility will go to those drivers who win a pole position during the 2012 season, together with any previous Shootout winners who had attempted to qualify for any Cup race during the season.
The move is an attempt to heighten the importance of qualifying during the upcoming season and give an even greater incentive to drivers competing to win a pole position. Last season, 18 different drivers won a pole.
The new eligibility system is in fact a return to the old system used for the Shootout between 1979 and 2008. However, when Budweiser stood down as sponsor of the weekly pole position award (now backed by rival brand Coors Light), the system was changed from 2009 to 2011.
“Fans have expressed their desire to see this event return to its original eligibility rules,” explained Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations. “We listened and decided it would be best to return to the eligibility rules of years past adding further meaning to pole qualifying for each NASCAR Sprint Cup race.”
The new system means that drivers already eligible for the 2013 race include this year's Daytona 500 pole winner Carl Edwards, this year's Shootout winner Kyle Busch, and previous winners Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin, Terry Labonte and Bill Elliott.
One of the big losers under the new system could be Trevor Bayne, who would previously have been eligible as a Daytona 500 winner but who will now have to claim pole position during 2012 to get in. Bayne did not run in the Shootout this weekend because of lack of sponsorship funding for his Wood Brothers Cup team.