The snow and cold that has dominated the Commonwealth in recent weeks tells us that it is still winter, but this weekend the temperature should warm up somewhat for all of us as we will once again see a green flag wave at Daytona. This Saturday night will be running of the 32nd annual Budweiser Shootout which signals the beginning of Daytona International Speedway’s Speedweeks.
The Shootout is one of only two non-points events on the Sprint Cup schedule, with the other being the all-star race in May at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Each race has its own set of rules and just making the field for either indicates that a driver has experienced success in the sport.
Through the years the Shootout has undergone many changes and once again this season entry into the season-opening event has been changed. Last season the field was set by manufacturers as the top-six teams for each manufacturer from the 2008 season were guaranteed a spot in the field, along with a wild-card team for each manufacturer. This brought the field to a total of 28 drivers.
This Saturday night’s field will once again be made up by some of the most successful drivers in the sport with an emphasis on those drivers who have had success at Daytona. Any driver who is a past winner of either the Daytona 500 or the track’s July Coke Zero 400 will be included in the field.
Joining those Daytona winners will be the 12 drivers who qualified for the 2009 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, along with any past NASCAR Sprint Cup champion. Rounding out the field will be past Budweiser Shootout champions and the reigning Raybestos Rookie of the Year. Any driver meeting one of these criteria to get into the race must have competed in the series within the last two seasons. The total number of drivers eligible to take the green flag on Saturday night will once again be 28.
While the manner in which the field will be set has changed, both qualifying and the format for the event will remain the same. Starting spots for the race will be set by a blind draw on Thursday. The race will once again consist of 75 laps and will be divided into two segments of 25 and 50 laps. Both green and yellow flag laps will count in the 75-lap total. Between the segments there will be a 10-minute pit stop, allowing pit crews to add fuel, change tires and make chassis adjustments. Only those changes that are made during a normal pit stop will be permitted.
The Shootout will actually be the third event of the day on Saturday for the speedway. The day will kick off earlier with frontrow qualifying for the following weekend’s Daytona 500. Only the two fastest qualifiers on Saturday will be guaranteed their starting spot. The rest of the field will be set on the following Thursday in two 150-mile qualifying races known as the Gatorade Duel.
Sandwiched in between the Shootout and qualifying will be the running of the Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 that will be the kick off event for the ARCA Series. The 200-mile event will demand more attention than in years past because it is anticipated that Danica Patrick will be making her first-ever start in a stock car.
One interesting side to this year’s Shootout is the opportunity for some drivers that are in what you would call “semi-retirement” to come back and make another start in the sport. Terry Labonte, Sterling Marling and Ken Schrader all meet the criteria and have competed in the series in the last two seasons.
Only Schrader has announced that he will take advantage of the opportunity and compete in the Shootout. Schrader gained entry into the event by being a past Shootout winner in both 1989 and ’90. He will be behind the wheel of Scott Speed’s #82 Red Bull Toyota for the Shootout, with Speed taking over for the following week’s Daytona 500.
Race Preview — Event: Budweiser Shootout. Track: Daytona International Speedway (2.5-mile tri-oval, 31 degrees of banking in the turns). Date: Feb. 6, 8:10 p.m. TV: Fox. Radio: MRN. Defending champion: Kevin Harvick.