While most of us are still waiting for winter weather, the Sprint Cup fans know that for them winter will be officially over this coming weekend when Daytona International Speedway opens its doors for the beginning of the new season. It will not be a Sprint Cup point’s race, but it will be the same drivers in the same cars that will take the green flag for the running of the 34th annual Budweiser Shootout.
While its unique format will never allow the event to be confused for one of the 36 races that make up the Sprint Cup schedule, it does provide every bit as much excitement and sets the table for all of the following week’s events leading up to the Daytona 500. Since it doesn’t award any of those precious Sprint Cup points, drivers usually are more willing to push both themselves and their cars a little further and in the process it makes for a great show to kick-start the season.
This is a race that NASCAR and Budweiser have tweaked over the years to ensure a good show when the green flag waves after dark on the giant 2½-mile tri-oval. It is also a race that the sanctioning body makes sure is made up of an allstar type field that always includes the biggest names in the sport.
The format for selecting drivers has changed every year since 2008, and the 2012 edition of the event will also see a new selection process since there is no qualifying for the Shootout. This year’s field will come from those drivers who were active in the series in 2011. The top-25 drivers in the final points standings from last season are assured of a starting position. David Ragan and Brian Vickers both finished in the top 25 last season, but both drivers lost their rides at the end of the season and as of right now will not be racing on Saturday night.
The remainder of the field will consist of past Budweiser Shootout winners and past Daytona points race winners in either the Daytona 500 or the Coke Zero 400 events. Eight drivers are eligible with past Daytona win. That brings the potential size of the field to 33 drivers. Of the eight eligible to start in the race, only one, Jamie Mc- Murray, is a full-time driver in the series. The exact number of drivers taking the green flag next Saturday may not be finalized until later this week as drivers with a guaranteed starting spot without a team at the present time are still trying to put together a deal to get them on the starting grid.
While we still don’t know the exact size of the field, the format for the race is set. Like gaining entry into the event has undergone many changes over the years, the race format has also had its share of changes. This will not be one of those years as it will be the same as last season.
The race will consist of 75 laps (187.5 miles) divided into two segments. The first segment will consist of 25 laps followed by a 10-minute mandatory pit stop. During the pit stop crews will be permitted to work on the cars and make all of the changes that they would during a normal pit stop in an actual Cup event. Teams will not be permitted to change shocks, springs or rear-ends during the extended stop.
The remaining 50 laps make up the final segment, which is about the number of laps that teams running the following week in the 500 will begin to make their move to the front for a chance of taking the checkered flag. It’s a format that all but guarantees a great finish and the start of another great season of Sprint Cup Racing.
PIT NOTES: If you want to know what a victory in the Daytona 500 can do for a driver, all you have to do is ask Trevor Bayne. Last year while driving in his first Cup race of his career for the Wood Brothers, he took the checkered flag in the sport’s most prestigious race. That win gained him automatic entry in the Sprint All-Star race in Charlotte last season and it also put him in Saturday’s Shootout. There is no official word if he will be in the starting lineup this Saturday, but he will be trying to qualify for the right to defend his win in the 500 next week.
Race Preview: Event: Budweiser Shootout Track: Daytona International Speedway (2.5-mile tri-oval, 31 degrees of banking) Date: Feb. 18, 8 p.m. TV: FOX Radio: MRN Defending Champion: Kurt Busch