Not so long ago, NASCAR unveiled its criteria for qualification for the 2015 Sprint Unlimited exhibition race scheduled for Feb. 14 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. After looking over the criteria, I guess it could be said, “another year = more changes.”
A couple years ago, NASCAR veered from event tradition and opted to go with the previous season’s Chase for the Sprint Cup drivers as the centerpieces, so to speak, of the Sprint Unlimited field (if memory serves me right, still referred to as the Budweiser Shootout at that time). For the 2014 event, there was a return to tradition, somewhat, as the event returned to being a showcase of the previous season’s pole winners.
For the 2015 edition of the Sprint Unlimited, NASCAR kept with the pole-winner tradition but beefed up the field with 2014 Chase drivers, along with previous Sprint Unlimited winners and previous Daytona 500 pole winners who competed full-time in 2014. Here’s the actual rundown of qualifying criteria and list of drivers eligible.
NASCAR guarantees a field of at least 25 drivers for the Unlimited, filling out the field by previous season points, if need be.
This new criteria seems to have at least some fans crying, “Foul.” Are there too many drivers qualified? Maybe the problem is which drivers are qualified.
When you get right down to it, the sticking point for the critical fans seems to be Danica Patrick. The former Daytona 500 pole winner has a ticket for the 2015 Unlimited by being just that, a former Daytona 500 pole winner, as in winner of the 2013 Daytona 500 pole.
That may not be a 2014 pole win, but it is a pole award. Besides, former Unlimited winners are in. Is that really all that different? That’s not a previous season pole, either.
Patrick’s entry seems to be the sticking point for most critics, so I won’t get into other drivers’ 2015 Sprint Unlimited eligibility, at least not here, not today.
Besides, does it really matter who’s in and who’s not? It’s an exhibition race, an all-star-type event, if you will. Shouldn’t the biggest names in the sport be in the race? Like it or not, Patrick is one of the biggest names in the sport right now. Besides, she’s just one driver out of the 25. If her presence is really that big of a problem for you, just forget she’s there and pretend its a 24-car event.
Think about this: NASCAR added a spot for a fan-voted driver for the Sprint All-Star Race. If NASCAR did, indeed, change the Sprint Unlimited qualifying criteria to get certain drivers in because of name recognition, is that really any different than the All-Star fan vote? Josh Wise getting that fan vote slot in 2014 is another subject for another time, by the way.
Oh, and fan voting plays into the rosters for the Major League Baseball All-Star game, big time. Why do I bring this up? Athlete popularity plays into all-star rosters/entry lists in other sports, too. Yeah, I realize this is the Sprint Unlimited, not the Sprint All-Star Race, but when you get right down to it, isn’t the Unlimited kind of like another All-Star event? That’s the way I look at it.
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