NASCAR returns with Bud;
Look for Jarrett as longshot

Feb 3, 2004 6:15 AM

This Saturday night at the Daytona International Speedway, the first competitive racing will take place in the 2004 NASCAR Nextel Cup season.

TNT will televise the much anticipated Budweiser Shootout, a non-points 70 lap race consisting of last season’s Bud Pole winners and past champions from this event. Fans have been waiting patiently and now its finally time for the gentlemen to start their engines into a new era.

The wait is also over for bettors. Wagering on NASCAR has seen the largest continuous growth of all the peripheral sports. Motorsports wagering has become a science that many have nurtured into success by following times, practice speeds, tendencies, and other variables gamblers use for all the other sports. Whether it’s the casual fan betting a few drivers to win for a couple sawbucks or the limit player, NASCAR has etched its niche into the Vegas betting world.

With the race at Daytona, restrictor plates in use and Bud the sponsor, Dale Earnhardt Jr (5-2) is the odds-on favorite. No one has been as consistently good as Junior in plate races over the last three seasons with the exception of his teammate Michael Waltrip. Since Waltrip didn’t win a pole last season, he will not be invited to Shootout. Thus, Junior’s chances to win increase. Junior blazed to an easy win last year, then won everything in sight at Daytona except the 500.

Earnhardt was consistently fast in the Daytona testing sessions last month, but Waltrip was better. There are also questions about how the new bodies of the cars will affect DEI’s current dominance. It’s said that the cars will likely be more bunched than the last two seasons. Not as bad as the wacky aero package of 2001, but enough to not allow anyone to check out ”” as was the case lately with the DEI cars.

The Shootout is a short race with only about 20 cars expected to participate. The dominant car usually does win, but you never know. There are some quality candidates participating with good odds that have great potential.

Jimmie Johnson (7-2): A great candidate to win the Daytona 500 in two weeks. The Hendrick program has always had solid restrictor plate cars. Look for Johnson to be the car nipping on Juniors heels.

Tony Stewart (3-1): Fresh off his fantastic all night driving performance in the 24 hours of Daytona race last week. Stewart will be ready to start a new streak in the Shootout, having won in 2001 and ’02.

Dale Jarrett (15-1): Jarrett is also a two time winner of the Shootout and the only driver to twice win this race and the 500 in the same year. Jarrett struggled last season, but test sessions at Daytona indicate he may be ready to get back his winning attitude. Keep an eye on him for the 500.

Ken Schrader (35-1): In a short race like this, Schrader may have a shot. He led practice times at Daytona last month in two sessions. For only 70 laps, it’s possible Schrader could last. The big question is his under-funded team and if they have staying power. Schrader won the Shootout in 1989 and ’90.

A notable absence because of his great test times last month was Jeff Green who will be driving the No. 43 Petty Dodge. Green will race in the Twin 125’s but not the Shootout. Richard Petty made a promise to his mother decades ago that he’d never have a logo of any liquor on his car. Part of Budweiser’s deal for the sponsorship is that every car carry the Bud logo sticker in the race.