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Budweiser Shootout Preview: NASCAR's Kickoff to 2011

Mark Taylor

Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A four-time FSWA award winner, Taylor was named the 2016 Racing Writer of the Year. He is also a military historian, specifically the World War II U.S. Navy in the Pacific.

NASCAR will start the 2011 season with the annual exhibition race at Daytona International Speedway. Most fantasy racing leagues don't recognize the Budweiser Shootout in the fantasy racing season, but some do along with many racing pools that form specifically for this event and its unique format. This exhibition race is a much shorter �sprint� than the 500-mile event the following Sunday, the Daytona 500. The field is much smaller, but the stakes are just as high. Thanks to a huge purse that is paid to the winner of this event, the racing seen in this event in some ways will be harder than what we will witness in the Daytona 500 the following week.

The racing consists of a 70-lap sprint that equates to 175 miles of racing on the famed Daytona International Speedway. The criteria to make the 2011 Budweiser Shootout is based upon the following qualifications, with eligibility based on a driver having competed in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series within the last two seasons:

-- The 12 drivers who qualified for the 2010 Chase
-- Past Sprint Cup champions
-- Past Budweiser Shootout champions
-- Past Daytona points race winners
-- Sprint Cup rookie of the year drivers from 2001-2010

This exhibition race tends to crank out repeat winners most seasons. Like any other race at Daytona, a driver has to have a �nose� for restrictor-plate racing and how to make the partnerships on the race track to get to the front. Since this event is just 70 laps, it breeds a list of winners who unload a fast car right off the hauler and don't have to make many, if any, adjustments to it. Here is a list of the last 10 year's winners of the Budweiser Shootout. This should give a good idea of the specialists for this race.

Tony Stewart200136 7
Tony Stewart200231 3
Dale Earnhardt Jr. 200313 19
Dale Jarrett20041 15
Jimmie Johnson200516 17
Denny Hamlin200616 15
Tony Stewart200711 14
Dale Earnhardt Jr. 200847 7
Kevin Harvick 20091 27
Kevin Harvick 201021 2

Since this event is a departure from NASCAR's normal racing format, we have to take the historical statistics in context this week. The stats can be skewed since several teams come to the Bud Shootout with "disposable cars" and looking to hit the big payday even at the expense of wrecking the team's car. However, we can rely to the loop stats to a certain degree when evaluating our contenders this week. The loop stats in the table below cover the last five years or 5 exhibition races at Daytona International Speedway.

Tony Stewart3.6571737354111.2
Dale Earnhardt Jr.9.24411071309100.5
Jamie McMurray8.8422131921799.6
Dave Blaney7.0110376899.4
Kyle Busch9.0351154923896.4
Joe Nemechek9.090207295.5
Kevin Harvick6.832663318594.2
Carl Edwards13.044195425593.5
Jimmie Johnson7.855691431691.2
Kasey Kahne10.25749228383.6
Denny Hamlin9.0571192031382.3
Brian Vickers12.04539421382.2
David Gilliland10.51701029579.7
A.J. Allmendinger5.0122204979.3
Matt Kenseth10.03708118177.4
Mark Martin10.344910125176.6
Jeff Gordon10.84558322374.7
Casey Mears10.52016010370.5
Kurt Busch13.336711619569.6
Scott Riggs7.0162039467.1

This race is unlike any of the normal Sprint Cup events, so we'll handle the prognostications a bit different as well. We'll give you our picks for who'll contend for the win in the Budweiser Shootout. These are the drivers who we see as the top threats to take the victory and the big purse in this Saturday night spectacle.

Budweiser Shootout Contenders � Drivers in the hunt for the win

Kevin Harvick �
The Richard Childress Racing star is the two-time reigning champ of this exhibition event. Harvick has used smart moves late in recent Bud Shootouts to push to the front and win. That has been Harvick's template recently in restrictor-plate racing. The No. 29 Chevrolet doesn't run up front the entire event, but makes the late charge to the point of the draft and takes home the hardware. Harvick's two wins, four Top 5's and five Top 10's in six career appearances are a witness to his excellence in the Budweiser Shootout.

Jimmie Johnson �
The 2005 Budweiser Shootout champion is coming off his fifth straight Sprint Cup Series title. We truly are witnessing racing history in the form of Johnson and his current dominance of NASCAR's top division. Johnson doesn't boast the impressive stats on super speedways that some other drivers do, but as we know from his recent career you can't discount the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team any time they show up at the track. Johnson has four career Top 5's to go along with his one win in this exhibition event.

Jamie McMurray �
McMurray has been quite proficient at restrictor-plate racing and especially in recent seasons. Since returning to team owner Chip Ganassi, the veteran driver has rediscovered his mo-jo on these large ovals. McMurray's stellar driver rating and loop stats in the Bud Shootout are evidence of his expertise in this event. Last season his No. 1 Chevrolet led two laps, raced with the leaders and finished a highly respectable third. McMurray will get another good crack at victory lane.

Tony Stewart �
Smoke is a three-time winner of this event since it went to its current format. The owner/driver of the No. 14 Chevrolet not only tops the loop stats for the Budweiser Shootout, but he's also had his fair share of success at Daytona. In addition to his three Bud Shootout victories, Stewart has earned three Daytona victories in the Coke Zero 400 held under the lights. You could say that he really takes his level of performance up a few notches when we race in prime time at DIS. Stewart led six laps in last year's shootout so you know he'll be racing up front in this one.

Kyle Busch �
Busch has never won the Budweiser Shootout but he has led laps and raced up front on several occasions. He dominated the 2007 installment of this event with 39 laps led, but fell short of the win with a seventh-place finish. Last season the Joe Gibbs Racing star drafted with his teammate Denny Hamlin and mixed it up with the leaders to the tune of a fourth-place finish. Busch's �wreckers or checkers� attitude plays well for the Bud Shootout. In this race, you want a driver who'll go for broke to get the win.

Denny Hamlin �
The driver of the No. 11 Toyota racked up the 2006 Budweiser Shootout win, so Hamlin knows what it takes to win this exhibition event. His Joe Gibbs Racing team always seems to bring a fast car to this race, as evidenced by his series-leading 19 fastest laps run in the Budweiser Shootout. Hamlin worked well with teammate Kyle Busch in last season's Daytona spectacle to forge a Top-5 finish. If the two can cooperate that well again in this event, Hamlin has a decent shot at visiting victory lane.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. �
Despite the struggles that the No. 88 team have endured in recent seasons, Earnhardt has always shown up well in this exhibition event. He's a two-time winner of the Budweiser Shootout and his loop stats backup the trophies as evidence. Earnhardt has led a series-best 71 laps in the Bud Shootout since it took on its current format. A good run and a Top-5 finish in this season's kickoff event would be a great way for the NASCAR icon to start the 2011 season.

Clint Bowyer �
Bowyer has started to quietly establish himself as an expert super speedway driver. This will be just his second appearance in the Budweiser Shootout, so he's yet to make his mark on this event. Bowyer does sport some great restrictor-plate racing statistics thought. The last time the Sprint Cup Series visited a plate track (Talladega October '10) the No. 33 Chevrolet out-dueled Kevin Harvick for the win. Bowyer sports a 50-percent Top 10 rate on the super speedways, so we're used to seeing him race up front at places like Daytona. Bowyer is a wild-card threat for the win in this event.