Earnhardt Jr wins Daytona Shootout

Budweiser's Dale Earnhardt Jr. Wins Budweiser Shootout DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., -- The 2003 Budweiser Shootout belongs to the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt Jr. With five laps to go, Earnhardt Jr. made a daring late-race move on ...

Budweiser's Dale Earnhardt Jr. Wins Budweiser Shootout

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., -- The 2003 Budweiser Shootout belongs to the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt Jr.

With five laps to go, Earnhardt Jr. made a daring late-race move on the high side to pass Jeff Gordon to win the inaugural nighttime running of the 70-lap All-Star race.

"There was so much happening in the last two laps that I can't even remember how I got my lead," Earnhardt Jr. said. "There's so much going on in your mind. You're trying to watch who's running up on top and who's running on bottom and you're trying to get help for them guys to get pushed."

The push came from Ryan Newman's No. 12 Alltel Dodge, which gave Earnhardt Jr. enough momentum to take the lead and pocket the $205,000.

"That was a tough win," said Earnhardt Jr., who led four times for 13 laps and has finished second in the last two Budweiser Shootouts. "I'm going to tell you -- it was hard." Earnhardt Jr.'s first Budweiser Shootout victory is his third career triumph at Daytona. His previous wins came in the 2001 Pepsi 400 and last year's Koolerz 300 NASCAR Busch Series race.

Rounding out the top five was Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Newman and 2002 Daytona 500 champion Ward Burton.

Gordon, who led two different times for 31 laps, wasn't too surprised to see Earnhardt Jr. soaring past him on the high side.

"Anything is possible in this Budweiser Shootout," Gordon said. "He's really strong. They've got a great program.

He certainly knows how to work the draft. I was in a great position sitting in front. When we were single file, I didn't think anybody could touch us.

"But once I saw them start to break off into double file, I just tried to keep my eyes on what lane was moving and when Junior got up there I still didn't think he had enough momentum to get all the way by me.

"I even thought when he got beside me, I thought as good as Kurt Busch was pushing me on the inside lane that maybe the inside lane was working a little bit better -- that we could still battle them to the line. But, he got such a good push that he got there in front of me."

New format: For the first time in its 25-year history, the Budweiser Shootout was held at under the Speedway's lighting system. The non-points race that kicks off the 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season also featured a new format with a 10-minute break after the first 20 laps.

Following the break, the cars returned to the track for the final 50 laps in which they made a green flag pit stop where three different scenarios played out.

Seven teams took fuel only while 10 teams (including Earnhardt Jr., Gordon, Kenseth and Newman) took two tires and fuel while only one team (Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Chevrolet) made a four-tire change.

"I think it's exciting," Gordon said. "I guess the break at the first 20 laps is maybe nice just to get us back to double-file. It keeps it exciting for the fans. With the fuel cell size we have now, we had to have a pit stop, which brought the team aspect of it in there to make a pit stop. Obviously, I enjoyed it. I had a shot at winning the race. To come home second, we're pretty happy with it."

Surprising Schrader: Ken Schrader posted a solid sixth-place finish in his first outing in the No. 49 1-800-CALL ATT Dodge for BAM Racing. Schrader, the 1989 Budweiser Shootout champion, ran as high as second in the final laps of the race.

First out: Geoffrey Bodine, who drew the pole position for the Budweiser Shootout, was the first driver out of the race. Bodine was only able to compete three laps before suspension problems ended his day in the No. 11 Hooters Ford.

Film Honored: The remake of The Daytona 500 was honored as "Best Sports Documentary" at the Los Angeles Film and Video Festival on Friday. The new Daytona 500 movie began showing in DAYTONA USA last week.

Next up: On Sunday at the Speedway as Speedweeks continues, the NASCAR Goody's Dash Series at 11 a.m. and Bud Pole Qualifying for the Daytona 500 at 1:15 p.m.

Tickets for the remaining Speedweeks 2003 events are available online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling the Speedway ticket office at (386) 253-7223.

-dis-

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Ward Burton , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Geoffrey Bodine , Ken Schrader , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson