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Teams Ready For New-Look Bud Shootout

Budweiser Shootout’s defending winner – Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Amid much anticipation, the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series officially returns to the track Saturday night.

The 31st annual Budweiser Shootout At Daytona – the non-points precursor to the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 15 – snares the spotlight first at Daytona International Speedway.

This year, the event will have changes in its format, with a slightly longer distance and an expanded field designed to showcase the four manufacturers competing in NASCAR’s premier series.

And come Saturday, no one will be more eager to mash the gas than the Budweiser Shootout’s defending winner – Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet).

“Winning the first race of the year – whether it’s for points or no points – is always pretty special,” Earnhardt said. “There’s no better way to start a season than by winning the first one right out of the gate.”

Doing so may be especially important this season, given NASCAR’s 2009 suspension of testing at tracks that hold NASCAR-sanctioned events. Instead of the usual January tests at Daytona and Las Vegas Motor Speedway, NASCAR Sprint Cup teams concentrated energy in shops and engine rooms to prepare for the season.

For the Budweiser Shootout’s 28 eligible participants, Saturday night’s race means the first opportunity to gather data under race conditions, a crucial component for Daytona 500 preparations.

Last year, Earnhardt used his victory to jump-start his first season at Hendrick Motorsports. The momentum carried over to a victory in the first of two 150-mile qualifying races for the Daytona 500 (the Gatorade Duel), and an eventual ninth-place finish in the Daytona 500.

“It doesn’t necessarily determine how the rest of your Speedweeks will go, because we run different cars for the Daytona 500,” Earnhardt said. “But it’s the opening act of a new season, and everyone wants to start off with a bang. I guess it’s more important for bragging rights.”

He cites a “good car; good motor; being in the right place at the right time,” for his 2008 Budweiser Shootout win – his third overall.

“Everything was clicking,” Earnhardt added. “I had teammates up front, and we worked together quite a bit. It was just a good race where everything went right.”

A New Format … The Budweiser Shootout race distance has been increased from 70 laps to 75 laps for 2009. That’s a total of 187.5 miles on Daytona’s high-banked, 2.5-mile layout.

As has been the case since 2003, the event will be run in two segments; only the first segment increases in distance from 20 to 25 laps.

Following the first segment, a 10-minute “pit stop” gives crews the opportunity to make normal adjustments to their cars. That means tweaks they would do on a normal pit stop during a regular NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event.

  • All work must be done on pit road or in the garage.
  • Teams may not change springs, shocks or rear-ends.
  • All green- and yellow-flag laps in both segments will count.

Following the 10-minute “pit stop”, the event’s second segment remains a 50-lap sprint for the win.

A New Field … As announced last August, the Budweiser Shootout field now includes the top six teams from each manufacturer based on the final 2008 car owner standings. Another change announced on Jan. 16: Each manufacturer also has a “wild card” entry, which increases the field from 24 to 28 teams.

Here’s the criteria for including a seventh car, or “wild card” entry:

  • Any owner outside the top six for each manufacturer, whose driver is a past NASCAR Sprint Cup champion who attempted to qualify for all 2008 events. Each manufacturer is permitted only one of these positions, which will be based on the most recent champion per manufacturer.
  • If an owner/manufacturer doesn’t have a past NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, the next highest eligible owner outside the top six, per manufacturer, in the final 2008 owner standings, will be eligible to fill that manufacturer’s wild-card position.
  • Note: This year’s 28-team Budweiser Shootout field is the largest in event history. Last year’s 23-team field was the previous high.

The 2009 field includes five former Daytona 500 champions – including one three-time winner in Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet), one two-time winner in Michael Waltrip (No. 55 NAPA Toyota), 2007 winner Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet), 2004 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. and 2006 winner Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet), also the reigning and three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion.

First-time Budweiser Shootout participants include AJ Allmendinger (No. 44 Valvoline Dodge), Robby Gordon (No. 7 Jim Beam Dodge), Joey Logano (No. 20 Home Depot Toyota), Paul Menard (No. 98 Menard’s Ford), David Ragan (No. 6 UPS Ford), David Reutimann (No. 00 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota), Scott Speed (No. 82 Team Red Bull Toyota) and David Stremme (No. 12 Penske Racing Dodge).

Participants with previous Budweiser Shootout experience include Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford), Jeff Burton (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet), Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge), Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M’s Toyota), Carl Edwards (No. 99 AFLAC Ford), Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Toyota), Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Budweiser Dodge), Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford), Bobby Labonte (No. 96 ASK.COM Ford), Jamie McMurray (No. 26 Crown Royal Ford), Casey Mears (No. 07 Jack Daniels Chevrolet), Elliott Sadler (No. 19 Stanley Tools Dodge), Reed Sorenson (No. 43 McDonald’s Dodge), Tony Stewart (No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet) and Brian Vickers (No. 83 Red Bull Toyota).

The Schedule … The NASCAR Sprint Cup garage at Daytona will be open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Thursday for inspection of Budweiser Shootout cars. That’s followed by the traditional draw party at 6:30 p.m., which determines the starting lineup. On Friday, teams will practice twice – from 4:15-5 p.m. and 6:30-7:30 p.m.

Fast Facts

What: 31st annual Budweiser Shootout At Daytona

Where: Daytona International Speedway

Track Layout: 2.5-mile tri-oval.

When: Saturday, Feb. 7

Time: 8:10 p.m. (ET)

TV: FOX, 8 p.m. (ET)

Radio: MRN; SIRIUS Satellite Radio, Channel 128

Distance: 75 laps/187.5 miles (25 laps in first segment; 50 laps in second segment).

2008 Winner: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Drivers: AJ Allmendinger, Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon,  Robby Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Bobby Labonte, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears, Paul Menard, David Ragan, David Reutimann, Elliott Sadler, Reed Sorenson, Scott Speed, David Stremme, Tony Stewart, Brian Vickers, Michael Waltrip.

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