NASCAR

5 questions for the Budweiser Shootout

Image: Kyle Busch (18) follows Mark Martin (5) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (88). (Terry Renna/AP)
Kyle Busch (18) follows Mark Martin (5) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (88) in practice.
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Jorge Andres Mondaca

Jorge Andres Mondaca is the senior NASCAR editor for FOXSports.com.

 
   
 

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.

STP 400

Prerace coverage from Kansas begins June 5 at 12:30 p.m. ET on FOX.

 

The waiting is over. Tonight at 8 ET on FOX, the NASCAR season kicks off with the running of the Budweiser Shootout, a non-points dash for cash that will certainly be high intensity.

So what can you expect to see? Consider this your cheat sheet for when the green flag drops this evening.

1. How fast will they go? Excitement was in the air during Friday night’s practice sessions at Daytona International Speedway as 10 drivers were able to break the 200-mph-lap barrier, led by a blistering-fast 203.087-mph lap by Joey Logano. So what will we see tonight? NASCAR officials said they would watch speeds in today’s Daytona 500 practices, so it seems unlikely they’ll change the restrictor plate size. So strap in tight and enjoy the combination of a new surface that lets drivers go three-wide (at least) and cars going over 200 mph. (Spencer: Drivers at full throttle to start year)

Speedweeks coverage

 

Daytona 500 is tough race with elite history.
 

Great American race has produced plenty of great moments.

High speeds, big wrecks, classic finishes — Daytona 500 has it all.

Spencer: 10 years after his death, The Intimidator IS Daytona.

Trevor Bayne grew up behind the wheel.
 

 

2. Will Junior return to the spotlight? In his first outing with Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, Dale Earnhardt Jr. became the center of the NASCAR universe as he won this very race and expectations soared. But since then, it’s been a struggle for NASCAR’s most popular driver. He has just one Sprint Cup victory since then and finished outside the top 20 in points the last two seasons. But he starts over again tonight, as he runs his first race with a new crew chief, Steve Letarte, and crew. Will he drive back into Victory Lane and be the talk of the sport for the right reasons again? He’s off to a good start, picking pole position in Friday night’s Budweiser Shootout draw party, so where will he go from there? (Spencer: Earnhardt ready to rally)

3. Is practice time overrated? The 24 teams participating in tonight’s Shootout got a total of one hour and 45 minutes to practice Friday night, but that’s still not enough to be able to predict what will happen tonight. Take Kevin Conway. Last year’s rookie of the year found nobody to draft with in Friday’s sessions, but he is slated to start 16th out of 24 drivers today. Derrike Cope is in a similar position, although he chose to focus on single-car runs himself, but he starts ninth. That doesn’t mean it’s a recipe for disaster for either driver — remember that Cope is in this race as a former Daytona 500 winner — but how they react is just one of the many great mysteries that will only be solved tonight when the green flag drops.

4. Can the new Bud Man make it 3? He’s won this race two years in a row wearing Shell colors, but now the new man in the black car — Kevin Harvick — strolls into the Budweiser Shootout in Budweiser gear. Can he complete the hat trick? He starts 18th, but don’t let his starting position fool you — he won from 27th place in 2009 and second last year. (Paint schemes for 2011 | Starting lineup)

5. What will this tell us about The Big One? Tonight’s race will be a fun one to watch as drivers take risks they normally wouldn’t with no championship points on the line — oh, and for the cash reward for winning, which isn’t bad for one night’s work. But remember that this is just the appetizer, the full meal comes in just over a week with the running of the Daytona 500 (Sunday, Feb. 20 at noon ET on FOX). Look for teams to try different things and drivers to test the limits of their cars and the track itself. As one garage sage explained, teams won’t show everything they’ve got until the big prize is on the line — but it sure gives them a chance to figure out new tricks.

And if you don’t believe that every driver feels that way, check out how Brad Keselowski feels about not being a part of the action tonight.
 

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