Whitesburg KY

Daytona opens with Shootout

Steve Mickey

Steve Mickey

As it has since 1979, the Budweiser Shootout this Saturday night at Daytona will serve as a jumpstart for the 2011 Sprint Cup season.

The non-points event will kick off the activities planned for Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway — two weekends of racing that culminates with the annual running of the Daytona 500.

The Shootout doesn’t really fall into the category of a points race or an all-star event. The starting field definitely resembles both a points race and the all-star race that is held at May in Charlotte, but it is the way the field is set that really makes this a one-of-a-kind race.

A driver qualifies for the race in one of five ways. If you are a past Budweiser Shootout winner, former Sprint Cup champion or a points race winner at Daytona, you gain automatic entry into the starting field for Saturday’s race. Joining those drivers will be last season’s 12 drivers that were in the Chase, as well as any former Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year going back to the 2001 season. Altogether there are 30 drivers eligible to run this year’s Shootout, with 24 planning at this time to be on the track when the green flag is waved.

Just as in the way the field is set for the Shootout, the format of the race itself is also unique to the sport. The race is made up of 75 laps (187.5 miles) run in two segments. The first segment will be made up of 25 laps followed by a 10-minute pit stop that will allow teams to perform the normal functions that they would do during a regular race. Teams can change tires, add fuel and make normal chassis adjustments, but will not be permitted to changes shocks or springs. The final segment — consisting of 50 laps — after the last pit stop.

Any race that is divided into a couple of segments that when added together is nothing more than a dash when compared to the rest of the races and has its field set in such a unique way must also have some tweaking to its qualifying process. Qualifying for a Sprint Cup race is pure and simple; the fastest cars start at the front of the field. These speeds are generally posted after just one lap by a driver, but for this race it comes down to the luck of the draw.

Qualifying will take place this Friday in what is basically a party setting. In the past drivers have selected a Budweiser beer bottle that had a flag with a number on it inside representing a starting spot. The bottle that a driver picked locked in his starting position.

This qualifying method works for this race, as you have to remember there are no points being awarded that will go toward the season-long points chase to see who will become the 2011 Sprint Cup champion. Instead, it’s a chance to get a little seat time on the track that will host the biggest race on the entire Sprint Cup schedule the following weekend and along the way a great opportunity to get some good early exposure for your sponsors and create some excitement to help start all the racing that will take place at Daytona during Speedweeks.

PIT NOTES: Finishing in the top 35 in owner points guarantees an owner that his team will automatically have a starting position in the first five races of the following season. The all important top-35 rule doesn’t start using the present season’s points until after the fifth race of the year, which makes entering each season with a guaranteed starting position so important. There will always be some teams that have the points to go racing each season but fail to have the sponsorships in place to make it happen. The owners of those teams are usually willing to sell their guaranteed starting spot to another owner, and that has once again been the case for this season.

Richard Petty Motorsports finished the 2010 season with four cars in the top 35, but will only field two cars this season. Petty has worked out deals to transfer one team’s points to the Wood Brothers #21 Ford, with the other team’s points going to TRG that will be fielding the #71 Chevrolet. TRG did have a car that finished in the top 35 last season, but it transferred those points to Richard Childress Racing to be used on its new #27 team of Paul Menard.

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