Bud Shootout just a dress rehearsal for NASCAR

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Finish Line by Micah Roberts |

It seems like the NASCAR season just ended a few weeks ago and yet at the same time, it seems like an eternity. The season did end in November, but we missed our normal fix of seeing January practice sessions at Daytona and Las Vegas which kind of got everyone into a rhythm prior to Daytona speed-weeks.

Last year was the first season, in an attempt to ease the financial pressures of some teams, that NASCAR did away with the pre-season practices. For the fan, and bettor of NASCAR, it was a good read on who to tag for the first few weeks of races at Daytona, California and Las Vegas.

The Vegas testing gave everyone, fans and teams alike, a huge amount of data that would help with several of the down force tracks over the next few months.

Our first look at 2010’s version of the teams with their restrictor plates on will be this Thursday and Friday. It will be the first official NASCAR practice sessions of the season in preparation for Saturday Night’s Budweiser Shootout and next weeks Daytona 500.

The Bud Shootout is a 75 lap exhibition race with only 28 eligible drivers being able to participate. The criteria to qualify for the event was changed once again this year, and it was purely coincidental that with the changes, Dale Earnhardt Jr. now qualifies.

Anyway, those who qualified are the 2009 Chase drivers, past Cup Champions, past Bud Shootout winners, past Daytona 500 winners, past Daytona Coke Zero 400 winners and the rookie of the year winner from last season, Joey Logano.

The format of the race is pretty cool and very reminiscent of the Saturday night specials run at local tracks across the country, with the exception being that these are the best drivers in NASCAR with no jalopies or hobos on the track.

The drivers battle for 25 laps and then come in for a 10-minute pit stop before the final 50 lap segment begins. Because it’s such a short race where positioning means everything, we’ll all be treated with lots of action.

When factoring in some of the new NASCAR changes, changes they themselves made before finally realizing those past decisions were bad, such as being more tolerable with drivers showing emotion and allowing bump-drafting, we could see a very nice preview to what this season has to offer.

We’ll have to assume that most of the top restrictor-plate teams will be just as good this year as they were last season and if 2009 plate racing is any indication, this race will be wide open.

The best restrictor-plate driver and team the last two seasons has been Kyle Busch powered by Joe Gibbs racing, and this looks like a great situation for him to kickoff the year.

However, the Roush-Fenway Fords had their best plate season ever getting two wins while sweeping the Daytona season last year.

Jimmie Johnson has some added incentive to believe he should do well this week. No it’s not coming in as the reigning four-time Cup Series Champion, it’s with HBO Sports following him around for his 24/7 show that began last week.

The sleepers, or drivers with high odds in this race, are the Childress duo of Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton. Harvick won last year’s Bud Shootout, so he won’t sneak up on anyone, but he should have some pretty good odds out there to make him attractive.

Look for a much more focused Childress unit this season and expect both Harvick and Burton to have a good year, make the Chase for the Championship and kick it all off this week with a great showing in all the Daytona races.

In the end, I think Johnson races to win harder than ever to give his TV show a little flair. Everyone wants to win, but no one has had cameras following them around like he has the last two weeks that has the entire premise centered around the build up of NASCAR’s best driver as he prepares for Daytona speed-weeks.

Next week we’ll have a full Daytona 500 preview along with some thoughts on the Gatorade Twin-Duel qualifying races.

TOP 5 Finish Prediction:
1) #48 Jimmie Johnson (9/1)
2) #29 Kevin Harvick (14/1)
3) #18 Kyle Busch (5/1)
4) #11 Denny Hamlin (14/1)
5) #14 Tony Stewart (8/1)

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Micah Roberts

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