NASCAR Season Opens with a Shootout at Daytona

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NASCAR Season Opens with a Shootout at Daytona
IconSaturday night, the engines of NASCAR's Nextel Cup Series roared to life for the first racing event of the 2007 season. In the end, it was Tony Stewart who drove away with the checkered flag at the Budweiser Shootout.

Held at Daytona Speedway in Florida, the Shootout is open both to drivers who won pole positions in the previous season and to past Shootout winners who finished in the top fifty in the points race. Twenty-one competitors were eligible for the 2007 running—a two-part event featuring 20 laps, a ten-minute break, and then a 50-lap race for a million-dollar purse.

Not bad for a Saturday evening's drive.

Dale Jarrett drew the first starting position on the grid, providing an early opportunity for his UPS Toyota to prove its mettle. Unfortunately for Jarrett, and as has been the case during Daytona testing, his Michael Waltrip Racing Camry faded quickly—and DJ didn't lead a lap.

Front starter Scott Riggs led briefly in the Valvoline Dodge, as did Red Bull Camry driver Brian Vickers. But both were ultimately shuffled back into the pack as the superspeedway-dominant Chevy Monte Carlo's took charge.

Kyle Busch would lead the most laps of the night with 39 total, though two-time Shootout champ Stewart held the edge after the first round. Kevin Harvick drove his new yellow-and-red Shell/Pennzoil number 29 car to the point and would head the field after 20 laps.

Though the Shootout is a non-points race, there was plenty of the usual Daytona bump-drafting, with Kurt Busch almost turning Stewart at one point. Smoke deftly recovered from the 185-mile-per-hour slide to maintain his position up front.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. pulled into the pits with a tire doughnut on the side of his number 8 Budweiser Chevy—something more reminiscent of short tracks than superspeedway racing. Junior finished third behind Stewart and Harvick in the first segment, making a sweep for Team Chevy.

During the break, the crews had ten minutes to work on their machines before the field reassembled behind the red Corvette pace car. Roughly half the cars in the field ducked back onto pit road to top-off their fuel tanks, as NASCAR's smaller superspeedway fuel cells force the crews to make more stops. Some teams worked a tire change into their ten-minute respite. Handling is always an issue at Daytona, as staying on the yellow line in the turns is the best and fastest way around the 2.5-mile high-banked tri-oval. Those drivers who stopped for gas lost their positions on the track and had to work their way through traffic to get to the front.

Once the green flag flew on the feature, brothers Kyle and Kurt Busch traded the lead for several laps, with Stewart helping the younger Busch (Kyle, nicknamed "Shrub") to the lead by falling into line behind him.

Back in the field, three-time Shootout winner Jeff Gordon would accidentally hit the engine-kill switch on his DuPont Chevy, and shortly thereafter pulled the number 24 into the garage with another electrical problem. Ryan Newman followed Gordon behind the wall with engine woes on his Alltel Dodge a few laps later.

A brief caution was thrown for debris on the track with 18 laps to go, resulting in all the cars making pit stops for tires and fuel. Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne took only right-side tires in order to jump the field before the restart. Dale Junior slid through his pit box, costing himself several seconds and valuable track position.

Kyle Busch managed to hold his lead into the final laps, when Stewart finally made his move. Going into Turn One, Smoke used the width of the track to get Busch moving in an effort to block him, much as a tennis player uses the width of the court to get his opponent off-balance. Then Stewart planted his Home Depot Chevy on the yellow line and closed on the youngster, taking just enough air off Busch's rear spoiler to upset the handling and making his car "loose." Shrub was forced to back off the throttle and move up the track, opening the door for Stewart to pass.

Though he'd led more laps than any driver in the race, Kyle would have to settle for seventh.

The surprise of the night was Shootout rookie David Gilliland, who raced his way behind Stewart after the pass and locked onto Smoke's bumper for the duration. They were followed by Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, and Kevin Harvick.

Junior's ill-timed bump-draft on Elliott Sadler coming off the final turn resulted in a five-car pileup with Kahne, Greg Biffle, and 2006 Shootout winner Denny Hamlin. All drivers walked away unscathed, and Junior accepted responsibility for the accident by apologizing to his friend Sadler.

Stewart didn't climb the fence in his typical victory celebration, choosing instead to compliment the younger Busch for saving his car from a wreck during the winning pass. Apparently the series of verbal altercations between Smoke and Shrub in 2006 are a thing of the past.

The victory should help Stewart build on the momentum he developed at the end of last season, when he won three races during the ten-race playoff despite failing to qualify for the Chase. Toyota was fortunate to have a car finish in the top ten, but Chevy's dominance at the head of the field didn't leave much room for any of the other three makes.
 
Final Results of the 2007 Budweiser Shootout at Daytona Speedway:

 

 Pos.Start Car Driver Team  Make 
   1  14 20 Tony Stewart Joe Gibbs Racing Chevy
   2   13 38 David Gilliand Robert Yates Racing  Ford
   3  19  2 Kurt Busch Penske Racing South Dodge
   4   8 48 Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Motorsports Chevy
   5  20  29 Kevin Harvick Richard Childress Racing Chevy
   6  10 01 Mark Martin Ginn Racing Chevy
   7   6  5 Kyle Busch Hendrick Motorsports Chevy
   8   4 83 Brian Vickers Team Red Bull Toyota
   9  12 31 Jeff Burton Richard Childress Racing Chevy
  10    2 10 Scott Riggs Evernham Motorsports Dodge
  11   7 21 Ken Schrader Wood Brothers  Ford
  12   3 60 Boris Said No Fear Racing  Ford
  13   5  16 Greg Biffle Rousch Racing  Ford
  14  17  8 Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Dale Earnhardt, Inc. Chevy
  15  15  9 Kasey Kahne Evernham Motorsports Dodge
  16  18 19 Elliott Sadler Evernham Motorsports Dodge
  17   21 11 Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Racing Chevy
  18   1  44 Dale Jarrett Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota
  19  16 37 Bill Elliott Front Row Motorsports Dodge
  20   9 12 Ryan Newman Penske Racing Dodge
  21  11 24 Jeff Gordon Hendrick Motorsports Chevy
 
 
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