It has been over 10 weeks since Jimmie Johnson wrapped up a record breaking 4th consecutive Championship at Homestead Speedway, but the wait is finally over. This Saturday the engines will fire on the NASCAR’s 2010 season when the Budweiser Shootout drops the green flag from Daytona International Speedway. The Budweiser Shootout is one of the most popular races for fans as it has that “all-star” feel that draws plenty of excitement. Previous point’s champions, Daytona winners, 2009 Chase contenders, and 2009 pole winners are just a few of the qualifications to make a driver eligible for Saturday night’s spectacle. The reason the race has displayed great action over the past is because it is a non-points race with big money on the line. That particular combination provides aggressive driving at very high speeds.
In fact, the restrictor plates that are run at the super speedways like Daytona and Talladega have been increased from previous years. The change in the restrictor plate should present some higher top end speeds, but more importantly give more horsepower and throttle response to the drivers. Previous restrictor plate races have been a crap shoot with anyone being able to jump in for a chance to win like Brad Keselowski who won last year’s Talladega race in just his 5th start in the Sprint Cup Series. Giving the drivers more throttle response should help give the better cars and drivers the edge. Therefore it would not be surprising to see some familiar faces in the mix of things like super speedway superstars Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The two have always worked well together in the draft and should be able to be in the hunt this Saturday night. Earnhardt especially needs to get 2010 started off in the right direction after a disastrous 2009 campaign. Earnhardt received tons of criticism last season failing to win a single race in his 2nd season at Hendrick Motorsports. There has been more time and energy that has went into the #88 camp during the off-season so it will be interesting to see what transpires on the track. Right now Stewart actually is the leading favorite to win the race at +500 odds after capturing a Daytona victory in the July race in 2009.
Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch are also other favorites expected to be factors this Saturday night. Johnson is possibly one of the favorites due to the fact that he can win absolutely anywhere. Still, Johnson has not won a restrictor plate race since the 2006 season when he won the Daytona 500 and Aarons 499 at Talladega. Busch is one of those guys that many fans love to hate, but has possibly the most raw talent out of any driver in the field. Busch has run very strong at the plate races capturing two wins in 2008 and with new crew chief Dave Rogers in command Busch should be a contender again this Saturday. Of course everyone is a contender when the NASCAR circuit hits the high banks of Daytona, but there are a few dark horses to keep your eye on as well.
One is the #83 Red Bull Toyota of Brian Vickers. Vickers surprised a lot of people last year by qualifying for the Chase for the Championship and has steadily improved into a legitimate contender on the track. Vickers got his first career victory at Daytona’s sister track at Talladega and is definitely got the moves to keep his Toyota out front. Another guy that should have some serious attention this Saturday night is Denny Hamlin. Hamlin exploded at the end of 2009 and was the only driver that ever appeared to be able to truly challenge Johnson for the Championship. A few misfortunes kept the Championship dreams out of the picture, but a breakout year could be in the works if they can continue their momentum in 2010. Hamlin has a knack for pushing cars to the front of the pack and it wouldn’t be a big surprise to see him in victory lane this Saturday.
Of course only time will tell as there are plenty more names that could emerge from the pack. One thing that is certain is that NASCAR has put more emphasis on returning back to their roots in terms of driver emotion. To much of the fans displeasure, NASCAR had tried putting a halt on the on track emotion and aggression. However, the move hurt ratings taking away from the sole character that makes NASCAR so exciting. In the days leading up to the start of a new season, NASCAR has publicly stated that they plan to be much supportive of the fans plea to let the drivers express their true emotions. The question is how long will it take for tempers to boil over this Saturday night. I can imagine it will not take long because 3 wide racing a few inches apart at nearly 200 miles per hour can get anybody’s nerves on tilt and that is why Saturday night’s Budweiser Shootout should be a fun one to watch.