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Budweiser Shootout Preview: NASCAR's Kickoff to 2012

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.

The 2012 NASCAR season kicks off Feb. 18 with the annual exhibition race at Daytona International Speedway, the Budweiser Shootout. 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 competition seen in this event in some ways will be more heated than what we will witness in the Daytona 500 the following week.

The racing consists of a 75-lap sprint that equates to 187.5 miles of racing on the famed Daytona International Speedway. The 75 laps are split into 25- and 50-lap segments with a 10-minute pit stop break in between. The criteria to make the 2012 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 25 drivers who finished in the Top 25 in drivers points in 2011
Past Budweiser Shootout champions
Past Daytona points race winners

This exhibition race tends to crank out repeat winners most seasons. Like any other race at Daytona, any driver with a knack for restrictor-plate racing and ability to make the partnerships on the race track to get to the front will enjoy the most success and compete for the win. Since this event is just 75 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 Stewart2002313
Dale Earnhardt Jr.20031319
Dale Jarrett2004115
Jimmie Johnson20051617
Denny Hamlin20061615
Tony Stewart20071114
Dale Earnhardt Jr.2008477
Kevin Harvick2009127
Kevin Harvick2010212
Kurt Busch2011317

Because this event is completely different than 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. With a total purse that will exceed a million dollars, the mindset is completely different than any normal points-paying event. However, we can only rely on the loop stats to a certain degree when evaluating our contenders this week. The loop stats in the table below cover the last six years or six exhibition races at Daytona International Speedway.

Tony Stewart4.86461141429105.2
Dave Blaney7.0110376899.4
Dale Earnhardt Jr.10.8488147533697.9
Jamie McMurray7.4504131927496.3
Kevin Harvick6.839963325895.5
Joe Nemechek9.090207295.5
Jimmie Johnson7.2675162138492.7
Kyle Busch10.4406175127289.4
Carl Edwards14.648695427785.2
Denny Hamlin9.5679192038782.8
Brian Vickers12.04539421382.2
Jeff Burton13.3294403217679.7
David Gilliland10.51701029579.7
A.J. Allmendinger5.0122204979.3
Kurt Busch10.847214926677.1
Jeff Gordon10.05359428275.2
Kasey Kahne12.55859228974.6
Matt Kenseth10.84368125071.3
Mark Martin11.649410127670.7
Casey Mears10.52016010370.5
Clint Bowyer11.51947411969.2

Budweiser Shootout Contenders Drivers in the hunt for the win

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. Coming off the championship in 2011, Stewart will be motivated to make a real impression in this first race of the new season.

Kevin Harvick -
The driver of the RCR No. 29 Chevrolet is a two-time champ of this exhibition event. In the recent past Harvick has used smart moves late in Bud Shootouts to push to the front and win. That has been Harvick's tactic of choice recently in restrictor-plate racing. The veteran driver 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 six Top 10's in seven career appearances are a testimonial to his excellence in the Budweiser Shootout.

Jimmie Johnson -
The 2005 Budweiser Shootout winner is looking to revive his championship winning form in the upcoming season. 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. The five-time champion and his ace crew chief Chad Knaus will likely be looking to send a message to the competition in this season's Budweiser Shootout, and that message will be "we're back". Johnson has five career Top 5's to go along with his one win in this exhibition event.

Kurt Busch -
The defending champion of this event had a change of scenery over the off-season and a few humbling moments along the way, but don't be shocked that we see Busch as a top contender for this season's Bud Shootout. The former Penske Racing star landed at Hendrick Motorsports satellite team Phoenix Racing. While the No. 51 Chevrolet team is small, they enjoy complete technical support and engines from the Hendrick program. Busch should use this to his full advantage in this no-holds-barred race. If pre-season thunder testing at Daytona in mid-January is any indication, the Phoenix Racing boys are going to give Busch a hotrod and a green light to go for broke to get the win in this prestigious event.

Jeff Gordon -
Considering all the restrictor-plate wins that Gordon has in his resume, it's a bit shocking that the Hendrick Motorsports star has never won the current format of the Bud Shootout. We have to go all the way back to 1997, and the Busch Clash to find Gordon's last victory in this event. As a young gun, he also won the 1994 edition of the Busch Clash. The long wait may be over for the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet. Gordon showed as much promise and ability to win in 2011 as we have seen in recent memory. The Hendrick Chevys also performed stunningly well in the pre-season testing at Daytona, with Gordon's team chief among them. Gordon should race up front and vie for the win under the lights of Daytona International Speedway.

Denny Hamlin -
The 2006 Bud Shootout winner is looking for redemption and a rebound season in 2012. Hamlin had a disappointing 2011 season, but hope abounds with the addition of new crew chief Darian Grubb. The results of this new crew chief/driver combo could be immediately seen in the season's first race. The driver of the No. 11 Toyota seems to always bring a fast race car to this prime-time exhibition event and we expect no less for this season's installment of the Budweiser Shootout. If there is a Toyota spoiler in the field that will rain on Chevrolet's parade it will likely be Hamlin and his Fed Ex Toyota team.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. -
Despite the struggles to win points-paying races that the No. 88 Chevy team has 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 75 laps in the Bud Shootout since it took on its current format. Considering the chemistry that he and crew chief Steve Letarte built in 2011, it wouldn't be at all shocking to see the NASCAR icon visit victory lane as soon as right away in the new season.

Brad Keselowski -
We're issuing a super sleeper alert for Keselowski and his No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge team for this exhibition event. If anyone in the field hoped to end Chevrolet's recent dominance in this race, it was Penske last season as they put Kurt Busch in winner's circle. The Dodge super-stable could do it again in 2012 with up-and-coming Keselowski. While his super speedway results were not-so-impressive last season, Keselowski did end the year on a great note with a fourth-place finish at Talladega during the Chase. This will be his first Budweiser Shootout, but Keselowski may shrug those perceptions and walk away with the huge check and prestigious trophy.

Taylor is a three-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner, including Fantasy Racing Writer of the Year.