Daytona Shootout: Non-points event preview

* Ready, Set, Shootout: Traditional non-points event kicks off countdown to 2006 season * Seat Time: Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Denny Hamlin ready for Shootout experience DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 7, 2006) -- It's a non-points ...

* Ready, Set, Shootout: Traditional non-points event kicks off countdown to 2006 season

* Seat Time: Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Denny Hamlin ready for Shootout experience

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 7, 2006) -- It's a non-points sprint under Daytona International Speedway's lights, usually on a brisk February evening. Cars roar in competition for the first time, and fans dust off their favorite gear and cheer.

But for NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series drivers participating in the annual Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, the event provides more than on-track excitement.

It's a very valuable sneak-peek.

"I think this race is special because there are only a select group of guys who get to participate in this race," said three-time Budweiser Shootout champion Dale Jarrett (No. 88 UPS Ford) of Saturday's event. "Anytime you get to participate in something that has a limited number of entrants among the best drivers in the world, then you know you have accomplished something."

Staged the week before the season-opening Daytona 500, the Budweiser Shootout's 70-lap, 175-mile format is a fun opportunity for teams and fans alike, with the reward a trip to Victory Lane -- always a high priority.

Eligible drivers are those who won at least one Bud Pole the previous season or past winners who finished in the top 50 of the previous season's series points. Accomplishment aside, they'll also gather data for Daytona 500 preparations.

"The Budweiser Shootout is a pretty cool event to be part of," said Joe Nemechek (No. 01 U.S. Army Chevrolet). "It's fun to mix it up with the Big Cats. We're in Daytona for a long time and the stay makes it more enjoyable when you get off to a good start."

Twenty-three NASCAR NEXTEL Cup drivers are eligible for the 2006 Shootout; 21 have entered the event. The recently-retired Rusty Wallace will not compete. Neither will former event champion Terry Labonte. The list includes current series champion Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet), a pair of three-time Daytona 500 champions in Jarrett and Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet), who's also the current Daytona 500 champion, and last year's Budweiser Shootout champion, Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet).

Any advantage Budweiser Shootout participants garner is relative, cautions Jarrett. Although all teams participate in January test sessions, there's never a true barometer until cars take the track under competition.

"I think more than anything, this is our first opportunity to see how our cars are going to handle in the draft in actual race conditions," Jarrett said. "We have been to the test, but it's not an actual race and this is, so that's probably the biggest advantage."


Hamlin the newest face on Shootout roster ... As the lone Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate eligible to participate in Saturday's Budweiser Shootout, Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet) will battle it out with veteran peers. He clinched his spot with a Budweiser Pole-winning lap in last fall's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup event at Phoenix International Raceway, one of seven series events he ran for Joe Gibbs Racing in the final weeks of the 2005 season.

"Being the only rookie in the Shootout from the 2006 class is exciting," Hamlin said, "but it's also a little added pressure to go out there and run well. Across the board people are expecting good things from us, so I am hoping I can go out there and represent the group well."

Other Budweiser Shootout participants are Kyle Busch (No. 5 Kellogg's/Carquest Chevrolet), Mark Martin (No. 6 AAA Ford), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet), Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge), Scott Riggs (No. 10 Valvoline/Stanley Tools Dodge), Ryan Newman (No. 12 Alltel Dodge), Matt Kenseth (No. 17 Kraft/Dewalt Ford), Ken Schrader (No. 21 U.S. Air Force Ford), Brian Vickers (No. 25 GMAC Chevrolet), Jamie McMurray (No. 26 Crown Royal Ford), Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Reese's Caramel Cup Chevrolet), Elliott Sadler (No. 38 M&M's Ford), Michael Waltrip (No. 55 NAPA Auto Parts Dodge), Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford) and Bill Elliott (No. 36 Ginn Clubs & Resorts Chevrolet).

Drivers who earned their spot via 2005 Budweiser Poles are Kyle Busch, Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Hamlin, Harvick, Dale Jarrett, Johnson, Kahne, Kenseth, McMurray, Joe Nemechek, Newman, Riggs, Sadler, Tony Stewart, Vickers and Waltrip. Drivers who earned their spot via being past eligible Budweiser Shootout winners are Earnhardt Jr., Elliott, Martin and Schrader.

Details: Here's how the Shootout works ... Part of the Budweiser Shootout's appeal is its sprint format. First staged in 1979, it's in its fourth season of being run in two segments. The first segment is 20 laps, followed by a 10-minute intermission. The second segment is 50 laps that must end under green-flag conditions, meaning the "green-white checkered" finish is in effect. The starting lineup will be determined by a random draw on Thurs., Feb. 9.

Some procedural notes:

• Teams may change tires or perform any normal pit-stop maintenance during the 10-minute intermission.

• Caution laps will count during both segments.

• Crews can work on their cars during a red flag, but only in the pit or garage areas.

• All restarts are double-file.

• All lapped cars will restart at the rear of the field.

On Deck: Daytona International Speedway ... The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series opens its 36-race, 2006 schedule with the 48th annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 19. Jeff Gordon is the defending champion. Dale Jarrett is the defending polesitter.

Fast Facts

The race: Budweiser Shootout at Daytona
The track: Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, Fla.

The date/time: Sat., Feb. 11 at 8:30 p.m. (ET).

TV: TNT, 8 p.m. (ET).
Radio: MRN/XM Satellite.

Posted awards: $1,119,920.

Race length: 175 miles, 70 laps.
Track layout: 2.5-mile tri oval.

2005 winner: Jimmie Johnson.

2005 polesitter: Dale Jarrett.

Eligible NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Drivers: Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Bill Elliott, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Dale Jarrett, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Terry Labonte, Mark Martin, Jamie McMurray, Joe Nemechek, Ryan Newman, Scott Riggs, Elliott Sadler, Ken Schrader, Tony Stewart, Brian Vickers, Michael Waltrip, Rusty Wallace.


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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Terry Labonte , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Michael Waltrip , Ken Schrader , Kevin Harvick , Joe Nemechek , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Jamie McMurray , Scott Riggs , Kasey Kahne , Brian Vickers , Carl Edwards , Elliott Sadler , Denny Hamlin , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing