Daytona Shootout: Non-points event preview

Numbers Game: Analyzing the Budweiser Shootout Field DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 5, 2007) -- The days of racing against the clock are over. After a series of tests at Daytona International Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a select group of...

Numbers Game: Analyzing the Budweiser Shootout Field

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 5, 2007) -- The days of racing against the clock are over.

After a series of tests at Daytona International Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a select group of NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series drivers are returning to Daytona a bit early to compete against much more formidable foes: Each other.

They're coming for Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout at Daytona (FOX 8:30 p.m.), an annual non-points race providing fans a high-end preview of what's to come during the 2007 season. The 70-lap race features 21 drivers, 15 of which won a Budweiser Pole during the 2006 season. (The remainder of the field consists of past shootout winners.)

The Budweiser Shootout is one of the more unpredictable races on the NASCAR calendar. But a look at the past gives a glimpse of greatness that can evolve after a shootout victory.

The list of drivers who won the Budweiser Shootout in their first attempt is both illustrious and intriguing: Buddy Baker (1980 Daytona 500 winner), Dale Earnhardt (seven-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion), Jeff Gordon (four-time series champion), Dale Jarrett (1999 series champion) and last year's upset winner, Denny Hamlin, who went on to win the 2006 Raybestos Rookie of the Year title.

Beyond that, 10 drivers who have won the Budweiser Shootout have also won NASCAR NEXTEL Cup championships.

In other words, this is an exhibition in theory only.

The main question coming into this weekend: Who will add their name to the distinguished list of winners?

A look at last year's Budweiser Shootout "Loop Data" -- real-time statistics gleaned form electronic scoring loops imbedded around the race track -- could well supply some answers:

* Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet), the 2006 Budweiser Shootout champion, had a Driver Rating (125.0) that was almost six points higher than anyone else.

* Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet), twice a Budweiser Shootout winner and also a two-time series titlist, had the best Average Running Position (3.417) last year.

* Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet), the reigning series champion, saved the best for last in the 2006 version of the Budweiser Shootout, averaging a speed of 186.348 mph over the last 25 percent of the race, boosting him to a fifth-place finish.

* Scott Riggs (No. 10 Valvoline/Stanley Tools Dodge) was one of the best Closers last year, gaining five positions (jumping from ninth to fourth) over the last seven laps.

* Considering that all 21 cars will likely be bunched together most of the night, Brian Vickers (No. 83 Red Bull Toyota) could have a solid shot. He had the best Speed In Traffic last year, averaging 188.409 mph. Of course, that effort came in a Chevrolet; this year, Vickers is the lead driver for Toyota's debut in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series.

* Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet) has an average finish of 3.3 in his six shootout appearances, the best of any active driver.

Dale Jarrett (No. 44 UPS Toyota), Jeff Gordon and Stewart have all earned more than one Budweiser Shootout victory, with Mark Martin (No. 01 U.S. Army Chevrolet), Bill Elliott, Earnhardt Jr., Johnson and Hamlin looking to join them as multiple winners.

Hamlin, though, looks to join an exclusive group of drivers who have won two consecutive Budweiser Shootouts (Neil Bonnett, Ken Schrader [No. 21 Little Debbie Ford] and Stewart have also done it).

The qualifying order drawing will take place Thursday and a glance at history says it doesn't matter how you start, it's how you finish.

While Darrell Waltrip, Bill Elliott and Schrader each have won from the pole position, Earnhardt Jr. started 19th and won in 2003. It was the lowest starting position of any driver who has won the Budweiser Shootout.

-credit: nascar

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Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Darrell Waltrip , Tony Stewart , Ken Schrader , Jimmie Johnson , Scott Riggs , Brian Vickers , Denny Hamlin , Buddy Baker , Mark Martin