The Dash For Cash

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The name has changed, the rules have changed, but it’s still the dash-for-cash that fans have come to know and love.

The Budweiser Shootout – formerly the Bud Shootout, big change eh? – will be held Sunday at Daytona International Speedway. The event – featuring pole winners from the 2000 Winston Cup season – used to be 25 laps around the 2.5-mile speedway, but has increased to 70 laps this year.

Another of the changes implemented this year is former Bud Shootout winners are now invited, which opened the door for four drivers – Dale Earnhardt, Bill Elliott, Ken Schrader and Mark Martin –to be in this year’s contest. Ted Musgrave also will be in the race after winning a drawing that selected one driver from the fastest second-day qualifiers last season.

Another change in this year’s event is that all 18 drivers in the race will have to make a mandatory pit stop and take on two tires. Caution laps will not count in the race total.

"Everybody is going to be watching the Shootout to see if the cars are going to be able to bust apart from each other in the draft," says Rusty Wallace, the winner of nine poles last year. "How close are the cars going to be able to run together? Is three-wide racing here at Daytona a viable deal? I think the Budweiser Shootout this year is going to be a little more look-and-see than what we’ve seen in the past."

Wallace’s Penske Racing South teammate, Jeremy Mayfield, says while some of the rules and eligibility requirements have changed a little, drivers are still using the Shootout as a practice race leading into the Twin 125 qualifying events and the Daytona 500.

"It’s going to be exciting and we’re going to learn a lot," Mayfield predicts. "It’ll be a good show for the fans, but it’s hard to sit here and say just how good we’re going to be because we race hard every lap. As drivers, we wouldn’t mind if it was 500 miles for the Budweiser Shootout, so it doesn’t matter. I feel like the more laps the better because it gives you a little bit more of a chance to have strategy involved and calm down a little bit."

Dale Jarrett, the defending Daytona 500 winner, agrees the additional 45 laps allow a driver to slip to the back of the field and still have time to work his way back to the front.

"It’s going to allow us to do some more racing," Jarrett says. "When it was 25 laps you had to really be careful and calculating about any pass you made, because if you went backwards you didn’t have enough time to make that up. Now, with 70 laps, we can really mix it up and race hard. If you’re going to jump out of line and try to make a pass and go backwards, you’ve still got time to make it back up. It’s going to be beneficial to better racing."

Martin goes a little more out on a limb with his assessment, saying for the first time the Shootout will now be "a real race."

"I’m so thrilled with the new format," Martin says. "What a way to start out the season… to make it a real race rather than two little segments that don’t have a whole lot of racing. Now it’s a strategy race."

Had it not been for the change in the format, Dodge wouldn’t have had a driver in Sunday’s race. For now, Elliott says, the focus of his team will be to see how the Dodge will do in its first on-track competitive race in more than 15 years.

"The only part of our program that might be a little bit of a question is the engine side… how durable it is, what problems we're going to see," says Elliott. "Being able to be in the Budweiser Shootout this Sunday will help. We'll run that deal, come back and tear everything apart and see how it looks and see how our power is and go on to the 125s.

"Right now, my objective is to go into the race and do the best we can and come out of it, analyze good, bad or indifferent and see what happened. We'll have a lot of time to sort through a lot of stuff. From that standpoint, I feel very confident. All in all, my stuff is pretty much set. The only determining factor will be power, motor and that sort of thing."

One driver who enters the Shootout under a little more pressure this year than last is defending Winston Cup champion Bobby Labonte, who tried his best to downplay the hype surrounding his first race in 2001 as champ.

"I don't think it's any different than any other year. We're all starting off at zero points this year," Labonte says. "Everybody on this team wants to do the same thing we did last year. Just like last year we wanted to do what the ‘88’ team with Dale Jarrett did. People are trying to do the same thing and we know that we've got to improve ourselves over last year."

Labonte says it could be one wild race with the additional laps of drafting at nearly 200 mph around Daytona.

"Everybody will be trying things out," Labonte says. "You don't want to call it a practice event because it's a race. Where you start is probably not the most important thing, but you'd like to start up front. It's going to be shuffled around. Will it be like Talladega? I'm not sure, but it has the makings of it. The guy from 18th might win. The guy leading with two laps to go might finish 18th. We'll just have to see how all that plays out."

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