On Sunday, February 11, 1979 nine NASCAR Winston Cup Series drivers, the pole sitters from the 1978 season took to the track at Daytona International Speedway for the inaugural Busch Clash. Created by Monty Roberts, the Busch Clash was originally run as a way of promoting Busch Beer. The race would only be a single segment, 50 miles, and 20-lap sprint with no caution laps counting.
The nine drivers who took part in first Busch Clash were Bobby Allison, Buddy Baker, Neil Bonnett, J.D. McDuffie, Benny Parsons, David Pearson, Lennie Pond, Darrell Waltrip, and Cale Yarborough. The drivers drew to determine the starting grid, with Parsons drawing the pole position. The race took only 15 minutes and 26 seconds. Baker dominated the race, leading 18 of the 20 laps. Waltrip, who finished in second, one car length behind Baker, lead the other 2 laps. Baker earned $50,000 for his trip into victory lane that day.
Until this point, pole winners earned fairly small cash prizes as a reward. At no time before or since the creation of this event has pole winners ever received bonus points. The Busch Clash was seen as both a way of expanding Daytona’s Speedweeks in the run up to the Daytona 500, and creating an incentive for drivers to attempt to qualify on the pole position throughout the year. The format of the Busch Clash would remain the same from 1979 to 1990.
Since 1990 the race has evolved dramatically. The Busch Clash has changed names twice, to become The Budweiser Shootout (1991-2012), and now the Sprint Unlimited (2013-present) that we know today. From 1998-2000 the race expanded from 20 to 25 laps. In 2001 and 2002 the race expanded again to 70 laps, with caution laps counting, with the condition that race must end under green and a required two-tire pit stop. From 2003 to 2008, the race was separated into two segments, a 20 lap segment and a 50 lap segment. In 2013 and 2014 the fans were given the opportunity to decide the format, and thanks to series and race sponsor, Sprint, voted on what format the race would have. One Sprint fan vote resulted in a mandatory pit stop, while the other resulted in the decision that no cars would be eliminated. In total, the format has changed six times from the single segment, 20-lap race in 1979, to the current 3-segment, 75-lap race of today.
The eligibility for those participating has changed multiple times. The field of eligible drivers from 1979-1997 were simply the pole sitters from the previous season. In 1995 and 1996, the driver from the NASCAR Busch Series was also invited to participate in a Busch sponsored car, David Green earned the right in both years. From 2002 through 2008 all pole winners from the previous season and former winners of the now Bud Shootout were eligible. Then, in 2009, the eligibility changed once again, to include the top six teams from each manufacturer, Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford, and Toyota, and one wild card as well. Today, the race still signals the start of Speedweeks, and celebrates not only pole winners from the previous season and past winners of the event, but also celebrates past Daytona 500 pole winners and the Chase contenders from the previous season.
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