Shootout Set For Saturday

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It’s a non-points sprint under Daytona International Speedway’s lights, usually on a brisk February evening. Cars roar in competition for the first time, and fans dust off their favorite gear and cheer.

But for NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series drivers participating in the annual Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, the event provides more than on-track excitement.

It’s a very valuable sneak-peek.

“I think this race is special because there are only a select group of guys who get to participate in this race,” said three-time Budweiser Shootout champion Dale Jarrett (No. 88 UPS Ford) of Saturday’s event. "Anytime you get to participate in something that has a limited number of entrants among the best drivers in the world, then you know you have accomplished something.”

Staged the week before the season-opening Daytona 500, the Budweiser Shootout’s 70-lap, 175-mile format is a fun opportunity for teams and fans alike, with the reward a trip to Victory Lane – always a high priority.

Eligible drivers are those who won at least one Bud Pole the previous season or past winners who finished in the top 50 of the previous season’s series points. Accomplishment aside, they’ll also gather data for Daytona 500 preparations.

“The Budweiser Shootout is a pretty cool event to be part of,” said Joe Nemechek (No. 01 U.S. Army Chevrolet). “It's fun to mix it up with the Big Cats. We're in Daytona for a long time and the stay makes it more enjoyable when you get off to a good start.”

Twenty-three NASCAR NEXTEL Cup drivers are eligible for the 2006 Shootout; 21 have entered the event. The recently-retired Rusty Wallace will not compete. Neither will former event champion Terry Labonte. The list includes current series champion Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet), a pair of three-time Daytona 500 champions in Jarrett and Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet), who’s also the current Daytona 500 champion, and last year’s Budweiser Shootout champion, Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet).

Any advantage Budweiser Shootout participants garner is relative, cautions Jarrett. Although all teams participate in January test sessions, there’s never a true barometer until cars take the track under competition.

“I think more than anything, this is our first opportunity to see how our cars are going to handle in the draft in actual race conditions,” Jarrett said. “We have been to the test, but it’s not an actual race and this is, so that’s probably the biggest advantage.”

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