Bud Shootout should
live up to name

Feb 7, 2006 6:04 AM

Competitive racing finally gets underway this weekend at Daytona after a two-month layoff.

First on the NASCAR agenda for 2006 is the Budweiser Shootout, a non-points exhibition race that consists of all last year’s pole winners and active past Shootout champions. This year’s race will feature 22 drivers, who will give us a prelude to just how good each team will be next week in the Daytona 500.

The big story coming into Daytona again deals with how dominating the Chevrolets are. They have virtually controlled the restrictor plate scene since 2001. This season doesn’t look to have any change on the horizon. The same drivers that have been good with the same teams for the last four seasons will be that way again. This includes the likes of Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr, and Tony Stewart, the three favorites in the Shootout and Daytona 500.

The other on-going story deals with the new Ford Fusion, which takes over for the Taurus this year. The Ford teams haven’t had much success in the plate races over the last four years so anything should be somewhat of an improvement. During the preseason testing at Daytona last month, the top two Ford teams were Elliott Sadler and Matt Kenseth. Sadler had times that were comparable to the top Chevy teams.

The Dodges look to be in some trouble for Daytona SpeedWeeks. Scott Riggs took the old No. 91 Ray Evernham car, painted No. 10 on it and came up with the quickest Dodge time during testing. Of all the Dodge teams, Evernham appears to be the one in the best shape. Ganassi and Penske look a little lost.

Petty has some people buzzing because of the new staff that includes Robbie Loomis and Todd Parrott orchestrating with Bobby Labonte piloting. But, the real story is Chevy.

Not only do they have the drivers with the most recent success, but a few waiting their turn to be the next best of the best. Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson lead the way as the top up and coming drivers, followed by rookies Martin Truex Jr and Clint Bowyer.

For Busch and Johnson, they should be considered live plays this week because of the format of the Shootout. It’s a 20-lap segment followed by a 10 minute stop and then a final 50 laps. The traffic is less of an issue because there are half as many cars participating as usual. It should be a bit more relaxing for a young driver like Busch. Johnson won this race last year.

This race is normally a great barometer on how well the drivers run in the Gatorade Twin 125’s and the Daytona 500. On five separate occasions, the Shootout winner has gone on to win the Daytona 500 the following week. Dale Earnhardt, Jr, who has won the Shootout before, finished second in 2004 and then went on to win the Daytona 500.

There are a few big names not participating in the race, either because they didn’t win a pole last season or have not won the Shootout in previous years. Since the Shootout began in 1979, seven drivers have won the 500 the following week after not participating in the Shootout. Michael Waltrip is the most recent, having done it twice in 2001 and 2003. Prior to Gordon and Junior winning the last two 500s, the race was won three straight times by a driver that did not participate in the Shootout. Ward Burton’s 2002 win was sandwiched between Waltrip’s two wins.

The Las Vegas test session for the Cup regulars showed once again that the Fords of Jack Roush will be just as strong as last year on the down force tracks. Look for each one of the Roush cars to win multiple races this season.

Kurt Busch’s replacement Jamie McMurray had the fastest time during the sessions. McMurray might be a nice choice to get championship odds on right now before he starts getting publicity for what I believe will be a few wins.