NASCAR could take a big step in tightening up the season and in turn whetting fans' appetites for racing by finding ways to shorten the schedule.
One easy fix is to consider the elimination of the Budweiser Shootout.
Simply put the Shootout has outgrown its welcome and is really an unnecessary part of the season. What started as the "Busch Clash" back in 1979 has evolved into an unsightly mess that really has no rhyme or reason.
The Shootout originally was an "all-star" event open to pole winners from the previous Sprint Cup season. Winning a pole at one of the regular season events punched a driver's ticket to the "Shootout" and was for a time a prestigious way to award each week's fastest qualifier.
But when long-time sponsor Anheuser-Busch pulled its backing of the weekly Bud Pole Award, the Shootout was thrown for a loop and since then NASCAR officials and Daytona International Speedway have been scrambling to find a suitable replacement format.
Drivers representing each of the four manufacturers was one avenue that was followed until Dodge dropped to only three cars and that became an unfair concept.
Now the criteria is even screwier with the 2011 edition set to include the twelve drivers who made last season's Chase, past series champions, past Shootout winners, past Daytona race winners and my favorite, "leading rookies from the 2001-2010 seasons." That wrinkle puts Kasey Kahne, Joey Logano, Juan Pablo Montoya and Regan Smith in the field as well as last year's Rookie of the Year Kevin Conway.
The rules will allow for a field as large as 30 drivers for the February 12th race and it appears everyone but me and the pace car driver are eligible.
The exhibition race will again be broken into two segments of 25 and 75 laps and yes there's a pretty good chunk of money on the line.
But is it necessary?
There were long and hard cries from many drivers, team owners and even fans last year that the season is just too darn long. Stretching from February through the middle of November, the NASCAR campaign overlaps every other professional and collegiate sport. It has become increasingly apparent that finding folks to put in such a time commitment is difficult.
Why not leave them wanting more? While I don't see any points races being lopped off the schedule anytime soon, not with the huge amounts of income and revenue every one of them generates for a variety of entities not in the least of which is NASCAR and the hosting tracks, finding ways to compress the schedule is a priority.
The idea of a couple of weeknight prime-time races, including the Chase opener, would help accomplish that goal. And if not eliminating how about perhaps sliding the two non-points events like the Shootout and the Sprint All-Star Race in Charlotte to a Wednesday or Thursday evening ahead of each track's main racing weekend?
There needs to be some out of the box thinking in the next couple of years regarding how the overall schedule is laid out. Shaking up the ten tracks that make up the Chase in my mind should be the highest priority in this category. But a more streamlined slate is also necessary and a good start would be to take a look at "all-star" races like the Shootout.