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The Budweiser Shootout fires up more than just engines

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Daytona Beach, FL (Sports Network) - There are no championship points involved in the 26th running of the Budweiser Shootout, The race won't help a driver make the new "Chase for the championship." So why will the drivers be so intent on victory?

It's about money and pride.

When the green flag drops to start the 2004 Budweiser Shootout this Saturday night at the Daytona International Speedway, more than $1 million will be at stake. The unofficial beginning to the new Nextel Cup season will be a 70- lap, no-holds-barred, old-fashioned shootout more typical of the good old days of NASCAR's roots than the "new NASCAR."

"I don't know what to expect," said Shootout rookie . "I'm just going to have a good time and try to win that thing. I'm not even really sure about all the rules.

"I had a ball watching it last year under the lights. There's not but 20 cars, so you can have a good time, move around, take some chances.

There were 22 drivers eligible for the shootout, but there will be just 19 cars on the starting grid as , and will not take part for varying reasons.

The race is split into two races - the first a 20-lap session, followed by a 50-lap race to the checkered flag. There will be no winning under caution in this one. If the caution flag comes out near the end, they will race additional laps to a green-white-checker finish.

"There aren't any points involved. It's just money, a trophy and a lot of prestige," said 2002 Winston Cup champion .

"It's like a bar fight, but the car takes the beating," says defending champion .

Which is exactly what the sellout crowd pays to see.

"Junior" battled from the back of last year's field to win the Shootout by 0.180 over two-time winner in the event's first-ever night race. Earnhardt Jr. drove past Gordon (who had gone to the lead early in the second segment) on the outside with five laps to go and held off runs from both Gordon and .

The win was worth $205,000 to the No.8 Budweiser Chevrolet driver and sent him into the season with momentum which he translated into a third-place finish in the 2003 Winston Cup championship - his highest ever.

The race is a proven momentum builder as seven times the winner of this race has gone on to capture the Winston Cup (Nextel) championship - Dale Earnhardt (1980, 1986, 1991, 1993), (1981) (1997) and Stewart (2002).

Can Earnhardt Jr. become the fourth driver ever to win the event back-to-back? Can he use this race as a springboard to his first Nextel Cup championship?

The answers will start to unfold on Saturday night.

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