By Pete Pistone
(Whether the rule changes will result in more pack racing or the return of tandem drafting remains to be seen)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - There's money and glory on the line but that won't be the most important thing in Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout.
The opportunity for drivers to finally put the many rule changes and modifications NASCAR implemented after last month's Preseason Thunder test into race mode is what's on everyone's mind.
After three days of testing a variety of restrictor plate measurements, spoiler heights, spring packages and cooling system tweaks, NASCAR landed on what for now is considered a suitable package to officially open Speedweeks. In an effort to if not eliminate at least limit the use of tandem drafting, which the sanctioning body found to be an extremely disliked practice by a majority of fans, the rash of changes were introduced to teams.
But while practicing during a test is one thing, being on track during racing conditions is quite another.
"I'm really not sure what to expect," said Greg Biffle. "My guess is you'll see a combination of the big packs that NASCAR seems to want us to return to and then some use of the tandem when the time is right."
The exhibition race will give drivers a chance to try and get a handle on what to expect when next Thursday's Gatorade Duel qualifying races roll around as well as when the green flag flies in the Daytona 500.
"There's no reason to thin the tandem will completely disappear," said defending Budweiser Shootout winner Kurt Busch, who makes his debut with Phoenix Racing in Saturday night's race. "But I do think based on what we saw during the test we won't see it all race long either in the Shootout or the 500."
Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout format remains unchanged from last year with a 25 lap opening segment followed by a ten minute break and then a 50-lap dash to the checkered flag.
Criteria has been tweaked to fill out the 25-car field to include:
• Drivers finishing among the top 25 in the 2011 championship driver points
• Past Daytona 500 and Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola champions and winners of Shootout events.
Following the first segment, a 10-minute “pit stop” gives crews the opportunity to make normal adjustments to their cars. Other notes: All work must be done on pit road or in the garage; teams may not change springs, shocks or rear ends; all green- and yellow-flag laps in both segments will count. Following the 10-minute “pit stop,” the event’s second segment remains a 50-lap sprint for the win.
Those entered in Saturday’s race: Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, AJ Allmendinger, Greg Biffle, Paul Menard, Martin Truex Jr., Marcos Ambrose, Jeff Burton, Juan Pablo Montoya, David Ragan, Joey Logano, Michael Waltrip and Jamie McMurray.
In addition to Busch, other drivers will be making their debuts with new teams including Bowyer with Michael Waltrip Racing, Kahne with Hendrick Motorsports, Ragan with Front Row Motorsports and Allmendinger with Penske Racing. Allmendinger already has one 2012 Speedweeks victory in last month’s GRAND-AM Sports Car Series Rolex 24. Kurt Busch is the defending champion of the Shootout.
Drivers will draw for their starting positions in a ceremony held Friday night to set the lineup.
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