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We get our first look at the new Generation-6 car in competitive racing action Saturday night at Daytona for the Sprint Unlimited, the 75-lap no-points race that used to be known as the Bud Shootout.

Drivers who sat on the pole last season or won previous Bud Shootouts are eligible to participate. There are 22 eligible, but the top two finishers in points last season – Brad Keselowski and Clint Bowyer – aren’t among them.

While it would have been nice to see Keselowski and Bowyer racing, it’s still going to be fun watching all the other well-known drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon mixing it up.

We were able to see the teams test the new entries in Daytona last month and I came away highly impressed with all the Joe Gibbs cars. Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and new teammate Matt Kenseth will be a formidable group to contend with this Saturday and in two weeks for the Daytona 500. Busch won this race last season and Hamlin won as a rookie in 2006. All Kenseth has done over his career is win two Daytona 500’s, including last season.

Kevin Harvick is a two-time winner of the Shootout, winning in 2009 and 2010, and is always a candidate to run well in restrictor-plate races. Harvick tested well in January and should be battling the leaders on the final lap.

Stewart has won the Shootout three times in his career, the last being in 2007. Johnson has only one win over his career (2005), while Gordon last won in 1997 when it was called the Busch Clash. Earnhardt Jr is a two-time winner, the last coming in 2008.

While I was most impressed with the Gibbs Toyota’s, followed by the Waltrip Toyota’s, during the January test session, I still have the feeling the Fords are again going to be dangerous in the plate races this season. Greg Biffle was fastest in one of those sessions while testing in drafting situations. We can expect Biffle and Edwards to be up there running near the front as well.

The best value on the board looks to be Mark Martin at 25-1 in his MWR Toyota. Martin won the 1999 Shootout, but should have a car good enough to possibly get him the win. The odds make him even more attractive.

Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Contact Micah at [email protected].

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