The green flag will wave on the 2009 NASCAR season with the Bud Shootout set for 8:10 p.m. Saturday night, and defending race winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. is ready to defend his title.
"Winning the first race of the year—whether it's for points or not points—is always pretty special," Earnhardt said. "There's no better way to start a season than by winning the first one right out of the gate."
Earnhardt won the event last year in his debut with Hendrick Motorsports.
This year, however, the event will have a different format, and will feature different drivers.
Saturday will mark the 31st running of the annual non-points paying precursor to the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 15.
Last year, Earnhardt not only won the Shootout, but he also went on to win his 150-mile qualifying race for the Daytona 500 as well. He couldn't complete the trifecta, however, and finished ninth in the 500.
"It doesn't necessarily determine how the rest of your speedweeks will go, because we run different cars for the Daytona 500," Earnhardt said. "But it's the opening act of a new season, and everyone wants to start off with a bang. I guess it's more important for bragging rights."
Earnhardt said last year it was a combination of a good car, good motor and being in the right place at the right time that earned him the checkered flag at the 2008 Shootout—his third win overall at Daytona International Speedway.
"Everything was clicking," he added. "I had teammates up front, and we worked together quite a bit. It was just a good race where everything went right."
This year, he will again have two teammates in the race with him, Jeff Gordon and three-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson.
The 2009 Shootout, however, will feature a new format in which the distance has been increased from 70 laps to 75 (or a total of 187.5 miles of Daytona's high-banked, 2.5-mile layout).
The event will still run in two segments, with the first being 25 laps, and then a 50-lap sprint to the checkered flag.
Following the first segment, a 10-minute "pit-stop" will give each team the opportunity to make any normal adjustments to their cars they could perform on a normal pit stop. In other words, they can't change springs, shocks or rear-ends.
The 2009 field includes five former Daytona 500 champions, including one three-time winner in Gordon, one two-time winner in Michael Waltrip, 2007 winner Kevin Harvick, 2004 winner Earnhardt Jr. and 2006 winner Johnson.
First-time Shootout participants include—AJ Allmendinger, Robby Gordon, Joey Logano, Paul Menard, David Ragan, David Reutimann, Scott Speed, and David Stremme—all of whom received invitations due to the rule changes.
The event will be broadcast of Fox, MRN radio, and SIRIUS Satellite Radio, Channel 128.
Let's go racing, boys!