The long dreaded offseason has finally come to a close as NASCAR is back on track this weekend. The Daytona International Speedway kicks off Speedweeks with practice for this weekend’s non-points event, the Budweiser Shootout, as well as the 2010 ARCA season opener.
Since the cars are back in full force so are our creatures, both new and old names make up the list this year as they’ll contend for bragging rights each weekend in an attempt to dethrone last seasons champion, Ben Bomberger.
With the Budweiser Shootout being all about having fun and starting the season out on the right foot, this week it won’t be about points for our Creatures, just about getting back in the game and preparing for next weekend’s big race.
Here are the Creature picks for the 32nd edition of the Budweiser Shootout:
Misan Akuya: Jamie McMurray
Jamie Mac is back with Ganassi after four less-than-stellar seasons at Roush Fenway Racing. But he did manage to win two races while there, one at Daytona and the other at Talladega. Plus, McMurray came less than a lap away from winning the Budweiser Shootout in 2009.
This year has to be a strong year for McMurray and what better way to start out than a win at Daytona? McMurray’s first outing in the No. 1 car will be a successful one and the start to a rebound season.
Ben Bomberger: Denny Hamlin
Ahh it's time to knock the rust off and get back to picking some race winners. To kick off the 2010 season (which let's hope is more exciting than the last four seasons), I'm going with Hamlin to bring home a win in this weekend's Budweiser Shootout.
Hamlin only has an average finish of 23.8 in full races at the 2.5-mile oval on the beaches of Florida, but his average finish in the Shootout is tenth. He also finished third in Daytona last July after leading 63 laps.
While it may not get me any points to start the season off, I'm hoping Hamlin will gain me some momentum early on in defending my Creature vs. Creature Championship.
Good luck, Creatures on the 2010 season!
James Broomhead: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
OK, so NASCAR hasn't found a way to bend the rules enough to get Danica Patrick into the field, but they did squeeze Earnhardt Jr. in and it's not an invitation he needs to be given twice. Even I have to admit he can drive at Daytona, and the less competitive nature of the Shootout, and the fact he has three teammates to push him around, should mean we’ll see him celebrating at what you could argue is his own party.
Kelly Crandall: Tony Stewart
When it comes to Daytona and Talladega, Tony Stewart has become the new pied piper. Even though he’s never won the big race, the Daytona 500, he’s won everything else the track has to off over the years, and every February he’s on fire in both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races.
With three Budweiser Shootout wins to his name, plus dominating the Coke Zero 400 the last time the series was in Daytona, can’t go wrong with Smoke this Saturday night.
Billy Fellin: Carl Edwards
If anyone is due for a Cup win more than Dale Earnhardt Jr., it's Carl Edwards. His 2009 season was back flip-less, which was probably the last thing everyone, including Edwards, was expecting after his monster 2008 campaign. While not a points race, getting the bad taste of 2009 out of their mouth with remembering where Victory Lane is now that the calendar reads 2010 will give Edwards the boost he really needs.
Adam Heasley: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
There are about three drivers I've gone back and forth on picking for the Shootout this weekend, but looking at nine past Shootouts not many drivers have been better then Earnhardt Jr. With two wins under his belt already I believe we will see a third this weekend.
Expect to see a sea of green and blue on Saturday standing on their feet.
Christopher Leone: Ken Schrader
I've just got a hunch. I'm sure he's hungry to show folks in the NASCAR garage that even though he's not a full-time Sprint Cup driver anymore (nor does he seem to want to be), he's still got what it takes to run up front.
And if he wins, hey, I look like a genius.
Kara Martin: Joey Logano
Fresh off of winning last weekend's Toyota All-Star Showdown, Logano will keep the momentum going as a strong contender in the Bud Shootout after 2009 crowned him the Raybestos Rookie of the Year. This year will prove that he's got the chops to hang with the seasoned vets by winning the kick off event to the Great American Race.
Dustin Parks: Kyle Busch
Rowdy has unfinished business at Daytona. Last July, he came half a straightaway short of winning the Coke Zero 400. Admittedly, it was Busch who made the move to block Stewart a second time, but he was trying to defend his race win. His win in July 2008 was the first time the No. 18 saw Daytona's victory lane since Dale Jarrett won the Daytona 500 in 1993.
As much as I don't like Busch, I really believe he can do it. The fact that this race is for exhibition, no points and no regrets, favors him. He can bring the car back in a basket, but he's going for the win.
I'm picking Rowdy to make some noise as the first guy to hit victory lane this season.
Patti Rodisch: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
After a rough year in 2009, I think that Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start off the new season on the right foot. Earnhardt Jr. is more than capable of winning the Shootout Saturday night since he’s had success at the historic track in the past.
One key for Earnhardt Jr. this weekend though is to be patient. Even though it is 75 laps, it is still a long race on the two and half mile track. Being aggressive early will not be what wins this event. I think we will see Earnhardt Jr. in victory lane on Saturday night carrying all the momentum of Speedweeks.
Sal Sigala Jr.: Kyle Busch
After watching Kyle run the restrictor plate races last season he seems to have a really good idea how to race on them. His biggest problem was his patience, which he has little of. This format probably suits him the best since he likes racing with the pedal to the metal, and with the short sprints he wont have to worry about saving his car for the end.
Rob Tiongson: Jeff Gordon
It's the first unofficial race of the year and I'm sure many of us are feeling quite optimistic about the new season that's upon us. Our favorite racers have given their vote of confidence in improving from their performances of a year ago. In the case of this driver, it's safe to say that Gordon was somewhat content with 2009. But with only one victory last season, he's probably hungry for ANY win in any event.
Sure, it's been 13 years since he last won this event and he's only won it twice. However, he's been oh-so-close to winning it the past few years. Look for the No.24 DuPont Chevrolet to fire its way back to Victory Lane for a third Shootout triumph.
David Yeazell: Kasey Kahne
Brand new year, brand new horsepower for Kasey Kahne and his Richard Petty Motorsports team, which is sure to be a winning combination. After merging with Yates Racing, it puts Yates Horsepower under the hood and puts the drivers back in Fords after a disappointing 2009.
The entire company has a fresh outlook and new determination for 2010. That begins Saturday with a non-points event where they can push it to the limits and assert themselves as contenders again.
Just like any restrictor plate race, the Budweiser Shootout has an anything goes type of atmosphere and this year will be no different. With a new format that makes it eligible for all the big names in the sport, there’s sure to be one big party in victory lane to kick off 2010.
Something to keep an eye on for all Creatures when they begin to think about their Daytona 500 pick: the last time the winner of the Budweiser Shootout went on to win the Great American Race was ten years, 2000, when Dale Jarrett did so.
Summary of Picks:
Dale Earnhardt Jr. – 3
Kyle Busch - 2
Joey Logano - 1
Jamie McMurray - 1
Denny Hamlin – 1
Carl Edwards - 1
Ken Schrader - 1
Tony Stewart - 1
Jeff Gordon - 1
Kasey Kahne - 1