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Shootout Should Be Informative, Entertaining

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 18 2012

The Bud Shootout got off to a sideways start on Friday as several of the top teams were involved in a practice wreck. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

The Budweiser Shootout is not really one of those events that prompts people to hold watch parties. It’s main allure has been that it kind of, sort of kicks off the new NASCAR season.

It’s been kind of a meet-and-greet from afar for fans and competitors.

It’s featured confusing, revolving entry criteria, a cheesy “draw party” and it has been held on a doesn’t-quite-feel-right date night.

And that crap about it being big fun because there is no pressure on drivers? Nope.

No, the Bud has been exceedingly missable most years.

This year, however, there is some relevancy attached to it. It will be worth watching even though Danica Patrick isn’t involved. (How the hell did NASCAR allow that to happen?)

This year the Bud will feature drivers using the new rules and specs in anger.

Tonight, new restrictor-plate track rules involving things like cooling systems, bumper heights, popoff valves, etc. that will be used in next weeks Gatorade Duels and Daytona 500 will be in place.

So?

“So there are still a lot of unknowns, a lot of things as drivers and teams that you want to push and want to test the limits of before you get to the 500,” Richard Childress Racing’s Kevin Harvick said. “Basically you have practice for the Shooutout and the race itself to make a quick plan over the beginning of next

The Shootout can be pretty dull. This year, there is some meat on the bone. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

week and come back and practice in the twins or duels or whatever they are called to go into next week. This Shootout is important because we really don’t know. We think we are going to have a mixed style of racing, but we really don’t know temperatures and pop off valves and things are still a little bit unknown.”

Harvick’s teammate and tenured racing professor Jeff Burton, said, ”We don’t know what is going to happen with the new rules package. The Bud Shootout event gives us a practice right off the bat that we otherwise wouldn’t have. We will race that Saturday night and help build an idea of what is going to happen. We’ll be that much smarter at the end of the race. I think it is a great way to learn.

“The only difference is that track and air temperatures at the Bud Shootout will be cooler than the Daytona 500. Temperature matters so much with running in the pack or the two-car tandem racing. The ambient temperature makes a big difference on what you can and can’t do so it’s not a complete indicator of what to expect, but it does give you a hint of what could happen.”

Most of the significant changes are aimed squarely at tandem racing. NASCAR wants two-car drafts gone and right now.

Except, Harvick predicts, it won’t be completely gone in the Shootout or the 500.

“Tandem is still going to win the race. I will promise you that,” he said.

What will we see tonight?

“The biggest thing in my mind is just the weather,” Harvick said. “The ambient temperature is going to be a key factor in how long you can push and how fast the temperatures rise. If you get a hot day, the tandem racing will be affected a lot. The cars actually run hotter in a pack; it’s harder to cool them in a pack than in a tandem. Obviously, in a tandem you can duck out and get some air, but the pack racing is hotter than a tandem for a lap or two.”

Also adding a bit of watchability to the Shootout will be old drivers with new teams.

Former Chase-type drivers like Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, and Kurt Busch have switched teams and it

Kevin Harvick says Saturday night's Shootout could be most important ever. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Brian Laawdermilk)

will  be interesting to watch how they do.

A lot of eyes will be on AJ Allmendinger, as well. Some are saying his move to Penske Racing will solidify that team and allow the former open-wheel phenom to become a Cup phenom.

“It’ll be a huge moment in my career when I take the green flag there on Saturday night as a driver for Roger Penske,” said Allmendinger, the 30-year-old Los Gatos, Calif., native. “We’ve been looking forward to this occasion for several months now and it’ll be great to finally get the 2012 season under way.

“Sure, we’d love to be able to kick the season off with a win in the Shootout there on Saturday night and we’ll be trying our best to do that. But, our Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Team already has the big picture in mind even before Daytona Speed Weeks begin. We definitely hope to start the schedule off with a lot of success, but everyone knows how much luck comes into play at Daytona and Talladega

“I’ve had so many media guys ask me if I thought this would be the best shot I ever had of winning at Daytona. Like I’ve told them, I don’t necessarily feel like this will definitely be my best opportunity at Daytona, but I know it will be my absolute best shot at winning races at all the tracks.”

So, the Shootout? Should be worth a couple hours of your time. Depending on the importance of your date.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 18 2012
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