Daytona Shootout: Season opening race preview

Drivers Ready to Rumble in Budweiser Shootout at Daytona DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 6, 2004) -- It's nice to begin the new season among friends -- even if it's door-to-door and bumper-to-bumper. That's what 19 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series...

Drivers Ready to Rumble in Budweiser Shootout at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 6, 2004) -- It's nice to begin the new season among friends -- even if it's door-to-door and bumper-to-bumper.

That's what 19 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series drivers will do Saturday night, Feb. 7, under the lights at Daytona International Speedway, when the 26th annual Budweiser Shootout at Daytona kicks off Speed Weeks 2004.

It's the beginning of a 10-day period in which the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, the NASCAR Busch Series and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series all stage their season-opening events, and although the Budweiser Shootout is a non-championship points event, it's a very valuable primer.

"We're going to learn a lot Saturday night on what we really have in store for us," said four-time series champion Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet).

Designed as a fun event, the Budweiser Shootout includes all pole winners from the previous season, plus past champions of the event. It's usually a driver's first laps of the year under race conditions, and the first race-worthy look at changes or adjustments in aerodynamics and equipment.

Following the Budweiser Shootout, qualifying for the Daytona 500 pole begins Sunday, Feb. 8 at 12:10 p.m. Only the pole and the outside pole positions will be determined during that session, with the rest of the field to be set by next Thursday's Gatorade 125 qualifying races.

So those drivers lucky enough to make the Budweiser Shootout field not only get a free peek at the first test, but some of the answers, too.

"Yeah, I think it's a real good way for the drivers," said 2002 series champion Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet), a two-time Budweiser Shootout champion (1999 and 2001). "I kind of feel like the drivers who are in the Shootout have a little bit of an advantage because we have one race under our belts before the 125s.

"Some of the guys who are struggling to make the field only have one chance with the 125s to race their way in. So that's a warm-up session to get the first race under your belt."

This year's Budweiser Shootout marks only the second time the race has been run under the Daytona International Speedway lights. Now a prime-time event, it's divided into two segments. The first segment is 20 laps, followed by a 10-minute pit stop in which teams can change tires, add fuel and make normal chassis adjustments. The event resumes with a final second segment of 50 laps.

"I enjoy the Bud Shootout," said 1999 series champion Dale Jarrett (No. 88 UPS Ford). "I think it gives you an opportunity being in that race to get that first racing opportunity out of the way and get you back into a drafting mode and what it takes there. As far as myself, the two years (1995, 2000) that I've won the Bud Shootout, I've gone on to win the 500 so I think it's pretty good practice to get ready."

And then there's the fun factor. Teams test extensively in the weeks leading up to Speed Weeks, including NASCAR Preseason Thunder, the annual tune-up sessions that begin in early January in Daytona, and end three weeks later with a four-day session at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

It's certainly crucial to run test lap after test lap, but not quite as realistic.

"When we come and test, we run by ourselves and don't even see anybody on the track hardly," Stewart said. "Now, all of a sudden, we're going to be all in a big bunch."

"I like the whole aspect of it," Gordon said, "working with your spotter, your crew chief, your team, and everything. It's a great race. It's also a tool for us for the rest of the week. There's a lot more pressure in the 125s because your starting position in the Daytona 500 counts on it, and you don't want to tear anything up.

"In the Shootout, you can go for broke and it doesn't really matter other than the win."

FAST FACTS

What: Budweiser Shootout at Daytona
Where: Daytona International Speedway.
When: Feb. 7 at 8 p.m.

Track layout: 2.5-mile high-banked speedway.
Distance: 70 laps (175 miles)

by a second segment of 50 laps.

-nascar-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart