2011-02-10 / Sports

It’s Time To Go Racing

By Gerald Hodges

It’s time to go racing. NASCAR kicks off its first race of the season, Saturday, Feb. 12.

The field for the 2011 Budweiser Shootout, at Daytona, will feature former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions, the 2010 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field, a host of former outstanding rookies and a collection of previous Daytona winners.

Criteria are based upon the following qualifications, with eligibility based on a driver having competed in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series within the last two seasons: the 12 drivers that qualified for the 2010 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, past NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions, past Budweiser Shootout champions, past Daytona 500 and Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca- Cola champions, and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year drivers from 2001-2010.

Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III said, “Race fans expect to see NASCAR’s best drivers compete in the Budweiser Shootout to kick off the 2011 racing season, and this star-studded lineup will not disappoint when they take the green flag for the first time on the new asphalt. The Budweiser Shootout has showcased some of the most thrilling racing over the years, and our fans are in for an exciting night on February 12th.”

The race distance will continue to be 75 laps (187.5 miles), consisting of two segments – 25 and 50 laps. Both green-flag laps and yellowflag laps will count. Between segments there will be a 10- minute pit stop, allowing teams to pit and change tires, add fuel and make normal chassis adjustments.

The Budweiser Shootout – a “non-points” event for NASCAR Sprint Cup competitors – was first held in 1979, originally known as the Busch Clash. Kevin Harvick has won the last two events. The green flag is set for 8:10 p.m. on Feb. 12, with FOX and MRN broadcasting live.

Drivers eligible for the 2011 Budweiser Shootout include the 2010 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Drivers: Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Jeff Burton.

Other eligible drivers: John Andretti (Coke Zero 400), Geoff Bodine (Daytona 500, Budweiser Shootout), Kevin Conway (Series Rookie of the Year), Derrike Cope (Daytona 500), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Daytona 500, Coke Zero 400, Budweiser Shootout), Bill Elliott (Series champion, Daytona 500, Coke Zero 400, Budweiser Shootout), Kasey Kahne (Series rookie of the year), Bobby Labonte ( Series champion), Terry Labonte (Series champion, Budweiser Shootout), Joey Logano (Series Rookie of the Year), Sterling Marlin (Daytona 500, Coke Zero 400), Mark Martin (Budweiser Shootout), Jamie McMurray (Daytona 500, Coke Zero 400, Series Rookie of the Year), Juan Pablo Montoya (Series rookie of the year), Ryan Newman (Daytona 500, Series Rookie of the Year), Ken Schrader ( Budweiser Shootout), Regan Smith (Series Rookie of the Year), and Michael Waltrip (Daytona 500, Coke Zero 400).

The draw for the starting lineup was held last week, and Carl Edwards will start on the pole.

Defending Budweiser Shootout champion Kevin Harvick remained at home in North Carolina after suffering flu-like symptoms. Harvick’s crew chief Gil Martin drew for the ailing Harvick and pulled the outside pole.

Rounding out the top-five were Brian Vickers, Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle.

Jeffrey Earnhardt, the fourth- generation Earnhardt, will be running all the Camping World Truck series races this season in hopes of earning Rookie of the Year honors while driving for Rick Ware Racing.

The team has hired former Sprint Cup driver, Jerry Nadeau not only as a driving coach but as a mentor. Nadeau will be mentoring Jeffrey not only on track at the races, but off track as well.

Rick Ware Racing has named Joe Lax as crew chief for Earnhardt and the No. 1 Fuel Doctor Chevy during 2011. Lax has worked for such organizations as Billy Hagan Racing, Don Beverly Racing, A.G. Dillard Motorsports, Clement Racing and Joe Bessey Motorsports before finding a home at Bill Davis Racing in 2000. Career highlights include a Southern 500 win as well as a Daytona 500 victory with Ward Burton in 2002. Lax then moved on to Hendrick Motorsports Nationwide program and eventually to Tommy Baldwin Racing before taking over the crew chief duties for Mike Skinner in 2008.

Panhandle Motorsports announced plans to race the entire 2011 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series schedule with Johanna Long. The 18-year-old driver from Pensacola, Fla., had a successful learning season in the NCWTS, plus a win at the 43rd Annual Snowball Derby. She will drive the No. 20 Panhandle Motorsports Toyota Tundra.

Long is returning to the NCWTS with two goals in mind – to continue to gain experience at the 25 different tracks, many of which are a first time for the young driver; and to race for the Rookie of the Year in 2011. She will begin by cutting her teeth at some of the most challenging tracks of the Series – Daytona International Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway, Darlington Raceway and Martinsville Speedway.

For the first time in his 24- year racing career, two-time and defending Camping World Truck Series champion Todd Bodine will compete in all three NASCAR division races at Daytona International Speedway.

Bodine will race his championship winning No. 30 in the Feb. 18 Truck race. His Nationwide car is locked into the field for the Feb. 19 season opener thanks to Michael Annett’s 14th-place finish in the 2010 owners’ points. He will attempt to qualify Larry Gunselman’s No. 64 Cup car for the 53rd Daytona 500, which kicks off Sunday, Feb. 20.

Racing trivia question: Who was the oldest driver to win the Daytona 500?

Last week’s question: How many Daytona 500s did Dale Earnhardt Sr. win? His only Daytona 500 win came in 1998.

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