DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — For the most part, tonight’s Budweiser Shootout exhibition race at Daytona International Speedway isn’t about money or a trophy. It’s about getting a jump on next week’s Daytona 500.
With so many questions concerning new rules intended to break up two-car tandems, electronic fuel injection systems and a ban on drivers talking to each other on the radio during the race, the Shootout has evolved into a dress rehearsal.
“Anything is possible,” Jeff Burton said.
A practice session Friday was a big step in the learning process. Teams in the exhibition race quickly learned there was a limit to how long they could run in a nose-to-tail tandem.
“You’re going to see it,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said of the two-by-two packs, “but you won’t see it more than a couple laps.”
NASCAR reduced the size of the radiator and lowered the pressure needed for the cooling system to overheat with hopes of keeping cars from being glued to the rear bumper of a leading car. NASCAR also increased the size of the restrictor plate to give cars more power, presumably to make it easier for a single car to find speed without a partner.
Kevin Harvick’s car overheated during the first practice session Friday after running just a few laps.
The race is open only to the top 25 drivers from last year and former winners at Daytona, including the Shootout, Daytona 500 and Coke Zero 400. Teams not in the race, however, will be just as interested in what happens.
Trevor Bayne, the 2011 Daytona 500 winner, is among those not in the race.
The starting lineup was determined in a blind drawing late Friday. Among the 25 entries are: defending Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart, five-time champion Jimmie Johnson and last year’s winner Kurt Busch.
All will be working on strategies for the 500, knowing a mistake tonight won’t be as costly as next week.
It’s a good thing since five of them – Stewart, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and A.J. Allmendinger – crashed while working in a pack at the end of the first hour of practice.