NASCAR and Sprint Cup Series title sponsor, Sprint, have given fans the ability to vote on various aspects of the Sprint Unlimited (formerly the Budweiser Shootout) exhibition race that takes place about a month from now at Daytona International Speedway.
The thought is nice, even though the old two-segment, 75-lap format worked just fine for years, but the options fans have to choose from are shallow and none will likely affect the outcome of the race.
Fans have three options to choose from on three aspects of the race through NASCAR.com or the NASCAR Mobile app until the date of the race, Feb. 15, although each vote has a separate deadline that day.
First, they can decide on the race format, although each choice already slices the race into three segments, whereas the shootout had long been a two-segment race before Sprint took over sponsorship of the race in 2013.
Option A breaks the race into segments of 30 laps, 35 laps and 10 laps; Option B features the first two segments at 30 laps and the final one at 15 laps; while Option C has 30, 25 and 20 lap segments.
Realistically, any option is going to be fine. The first two segments absolutely do not matter at all because cars will be able to run the entire segments without needing a pit stop. The final segment is the only one that matters, but it is still less important at Daytona than it would be at other tracks such as Charlotte Motor Speedway, which hosts the segmented Sprint All-Star Race in May.
Drivers will not race any harder in 10 laps than they will in 20 laps because the entire field will be bunched into one big pack and nobody will be able to break away because of the restrictor plates that NASCAR mandates cars have at Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway.
Sure, there is a slight chance the cars at the back of the pack could lose the draft in 20 laps, but that would not affect the race for the win because 20 laps should not be long enough for drivers to hang at the back to try to avoid a wreck.
Anyway, the next part of the race fans can vote on is the starting order. They can have the field line up by their most career poles, by the 2013 driver points standings or their final practice speeds, from fastest to slowest.
Again, this choice is almost completely irrelevant because of the pack racing at Daytona. The field will shuffle multiple times within even just one lap because all of the cars run close together in a big pack.
The driver who ends up starting first will get a slight advantage with the No. 1 pit stall choice, but that benefit would come into play only if the fans choose Option C in their final vote selection.
Option C says drivers must make a mandatory pit stop at the end of the second segment, and the restart order for the final segment would be based on the order of how the cars exited pit road.
Otherwise, the restart for the final segment will be based on the drivers’ fastest lap of the race or who led the most laps.
Both of those options are relatively meaningless, as well, because the fastest lap of a restrictor-plate race is random and does not show which car truly is the fastest. A car that catches a strong draft from the tail end of the pack could run a significantly faster lap than the leader just because of its position on the racetrack.
The most laps led option could matter if a bunch of the 20 eligible drivers actually lead a lap, but it could determine only the first two or three drivers if each segment has few different leaders.
Perhaps the insignificance of the fans’ choices is a good thing. The exhibition race that annually kicks off Speedweeks at Daytona has always been a bit of a gimmick. It started in 1979 as a test race for CBS to broadcast in advance of the first live, flag-to-flag coverage of the Daytona 500 in the sport’s history.
The first title for the race was the Busch Clash and was a single-segment, 20-lap shootout event for the past season’s pole winners. It grew to 25 laps in 1998 and steadily increased to 75 laps through the next decade but featured pole winners or former shootout winners exclusively until Coors Light became the pole award sponsor in 2010.
Budweiser did not want to honor Coors Light pole winners in its shootout race, so the event endured a myriad of changes to the eligibility rules until Sprint brought it back to a race for pole winners in 2013.
The shootout does not mean much beyond glory and a hefty payday for the winner, and while the fan votes will have a tangible effect on the race, they are so subtle as to hardly matter.
That might sound a bit too similar to another American voting process.