NASCAR lovers, rejoice. Motor racing's most popular brand is back on the track and set to drop the green flag on another exciting season of side-by-side and bumper-to-bumper, high-speed stock-car racing.
The 2012 Daytona 500, NASCAR's premier single event of the year and the official opening of the new season, is not until next weekend at Daytona International Speedway. But before all of that gets under way, the engines will be roaring at Daytona as part of the Budweiser Shootout, a non-points exhibition featuring a select list of some of the best drivers and cars in the Sprint Cup Series, NASCAR's top racing level. The 2012 Shootout will be staged under the lights on Saturday.
This will be the 34th running of the Budweiser Shootout, traditionally held one week prior to the annual Daytona 500 race, and kicks off the NASCAR portion of what is called Speedweeks in preparation for the start of the new motor racing season. The Shootout, which first debuted in 1979, is an invitation-only event featuring drivers who finished in the top 25 in Sprint Cup points the previous season, past Shootout winners and past Sprint Cup race winners at Daytona.
Thirty-three drivers were eligible for the 2012 Shootout, which would be a record field. As of today, however, the race field consists of just 25 drivers, including Kansas City-area drivers, Carl Edwards from Columbia, Mo., and Clint Bowyer, who hails from Emporia, Kan. Edwards was second in points to Chase champion Tony Stewart, while Bowyer finished 13th in the final points standings.
The race format is 75 laps, which are broken into two segments or duels. The first segment is 25 laps and serves as a warm up. The second race, which determines the overall winner, covers 50 laps. A ten-minute intermission is held in between. The combined distance for both segment is 187.5 miles. The starting positions are determined by a blind draw. There have been 11 different formats used in the 33-year history of the Shootout.
Several drivers who are in this year's Shootout field are with different teams to begin the 2012 season. Bowyer, who had been with Richard Childress Racing all six seasons he has competed in NASCAR, ended his relationship with RCR after last season, He is now with Michael Waltrip Racing. Veteran NASCAR driver Mark Martin also has moved to Michael Waltrip Racing this season after several years as the No. 4 driver at Hendrick Motorsports (which also has Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.). Replacing Martin in the No. 5 Chevrolet for Hendrick is Kasey Kahne, who was with now-defunct Red Bull Racing (in NASCAR only) last year and Richard Petty Motorsports prior to that.
Also changing racing colors this year is Kurt Busch, who moves to Phoenix Racing after driving for Penske Racing for the past six years. The older Busch brother (at 33, seven years older than Kyle) is the immediate past winner of the Budweiser Shootout. Kevin Harvick of Richard Childress Racing was the back-to-back winner in 2009 and 2010.
As NASCAR experts are quick to point out, and history validates, a winning performance in the Budweiser Shootout does not necessarily translate to a trip to the victory platform in the Daytona 500. The Shootout winners the past four years have finished fifth (Busch in 2011), seventh (Harvick in 2010), second (Harvick in 2009) and ninth (Dale Jr. in 2008, his first year with Hendrick Motorsports) the following weekend in the Daytona 500.
Some interesting facts & figures from past NASCAR ‘Shootouts':
- Jeff Gordon has not finished worse than sixth in the past four Shootouts.
- Kevin Harvick has finished in the top ten in all but one of his six Shootouts. His average finish of 6.57 is the second best among all active Sprint Cup drivers.
- Carl Edwards has competed in five Shootout exhibitions. His seventh-place finish in 2009 is his best result.
- Twelve of the 33 drivers eligible for the 2012 Shootout have won at least one Shootout.
- Kurt Busch's victory in last year's Shootout was his first and the first for his Dodge manufacturer.
- There were 28 lead changes in the Shootout a year ago, the most ever in this event.
- Tony Stewart is the only driver to win more than $1 million in career Shootout prize money. Stewart is participating in his 13th Shootout in 2012.
- Mark Martin and former NASCAR driver Bill Elliott have competed in 23 Shootouts, the most of all drivers.
- This year will be Jeff Gordon's 19 consecutive Shootout start.
- This is the fourth consecutive year Kasey Kahne has taken part in the Shootout driving a different make car.
- The race winner led only the final lap in seven of the 33 Shootouts.
- Jamie McMurray, of Joplin, Mo., has two second-place finishes and a third-place finish in his three previous Shootout starts.
- Dale Earnhardt won six of the 12 Shootouts in which he competed and finished in the top five 11 times, the best performance among all drivers.
- Dale Earnhardt, Jr. led 47 of the 50 laps in the 2008 Shootout, the most laps ever led by a Shootout winner.
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