Countdown to the Budweiser Shootout: Worst to first trend familiar to Dale Jr. (Friday, Jan. 21, 2005) -- There are two things Dale Earnhardt Jr. has grown accustomed to when it comes to the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona: starting towards the...
Countdown to the Budweiser Shootout: Worst to first trend familiar to Dale Jr.
(Friday, Jan. 21, 2005) -- There are two things Dale Earnhardt Jr. has grown accustomed to when it comes to the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona: starting towards the back and finishing towards the front.
In four Shootout starts, Earnhardt's average starting position is 16th, and he has never taken the green flag higher than 10th. All the while he has never finished worse than sixth, with two runner-up finishes (2002 and 2004) and a win in 2003. His victory was a lot like his runner-up finish last year to Dale Jarrett in that he started dead last (19th) both times.
Drivers earn their eligibility into this season-opening race by winning a Bud Pole Award the previous year or -- as in Junior's case -- being a past Shootout champion. However the starting grid is determined somewhat unconventionally -- drawing numbers out of a box.
"I don't know, I guess I'm a better qualifier when I'm pulling on a steering wheel than when I'm pulling out a number," Earnhardt joked.
No driver has ever won from as far back as Dale Jr. did in 2003, and he became only the third driver ever to win the Shootout after starting in last place. The others were Dale Jarrett, who drove from 15th to first in 2000, and Dale Earnhardt Sr., who came from 14th in 1991 and 13th in 1993 to earn two of his record six Shootout titles.
"I've pretty much warmed up to the fact that whatever I pull out is probably going to have double digits on it," Dale Jr. said. "But with only 19 or 20 cars in the race, it's more fun than it is difficult to start in the back. I'm not saying I'd prefer it, but if I end up drawing the last position for the third year in a row, it'll probably be good for a few laughs at the Draw Party, and then we'll just hope the car is good enough to cut through traffic on race day."
Sixteen of the 20 drivers eligible for the 27th running of the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona have past Shootout experience, but nobody has an average finish quite like Earnhardt's. In four starts his average finish is 2.75. Only Tony Stewart, who has two victories in five starts, comes close with an average of 5.6.
Earnhardt's secret to Shootout success is really no secret at all -- it's at Daytona, by far his most prominent racing venue. Non-points and 24-hour races included, Junior has nine victories in 28 career starts at the speedway, most recently winning the Twin-125 qualifying heat race, the Busch Series Hershey Kisses 300, and the Daytona 500 during Speedweeks in 2004. Combined with his father, the Earnhardts have a combined 43 victories at Daytona.
"As much as I enjoy going to Daytona, I think this time will be even better because I won't have as much pressure on me," he said. "I won't have to answer the questions on if I can win the Daytona 500. I can just go there and race like hell, which is what you're supposed to do.
"I expect a lot of the same in the Budweiser Shootout -- a lot of pushing, shoving, blocking and weaving. Last year some of the guys ended up in the fence, and some of the others crashed their cars up s a little bit. I guess it's my job to make sure we're not one of them, so maybe we can go out there and win this thing again."
The 27th running of the Budweiser Shootout is scheduled for Sat., Feb. 12 at 8 p.m. ET. Race tickets are available by calling 1-800-Pit-Shop or by logging on to www.1800Pitshop.com. For more information on the Budweiser Shootout, including photos, logos, statistics and past news releases from the Countdown Series, please log on to www.fingerprintonline.com.