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“Shootout at Daytona” is Saturday Night

Daytona Speedweeks kicks off with the traditional “Shootout at Daytona” followed by pole qualifying to set the 54th Annual Daytona 500’s front row and the Gatorade Duel at Daytona. This pair of races sets the remainder of the field for the Feb. 26 Great American Race (FOX, 1 p.m. ET).

Top Drivers, Teams Ready for Shootout at Daytona

Defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart figures to get his Speedweeks off to a good start when the 2012 edition of the “Shootout at Daytona” rolls off this Saturday, Feb. 18 (FOX , 8 p.m. ET).  Stewart is a three-time winner of the non-points event, his most recent

victory coming in 2007. Stewart also won in 2001-02 – one of four drivers with consecutive victories in the 75-lap, 187.5-mile event.

A driver to watch is AJ Allmendinger

 Allmendinger will make his second “Shootout at Daytona” appearance in last year’s winning car – Penske Racing’s No. 22 Dodge. Allmendinger, a member of the Rolex 24 winning Michael Shank Racing team, finished fifth in the race’s 2009 edition. Figure Allmendinger to be a legitimate contender to become the next first-time Daytona 500 winner.

The highest-ranked 25 drivers in 2011 standings, plus previous winners of the Daytona 500, Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola, and Shootout events are eligible to compete in this year’s shootout.

Things to watch for in this year’s Daytona 500

Will there be a seventh consecutive first-time Daytona 500 winner? Will Tony Stewart join Jeff Gordon as the only four-time champions of NASCAR’s premier series? Can Carl Edwards, who lost last year’s crown on a tie-breaker, give Roush Fenway Racing its third championship? Or will there be a first-time champion – the first since Johnson in 2006?

Last year’s voting saw the media whiff on all three series choosing Johnson, Elliott Sadler, who finished second to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, and two-time NCWTS champion Todd Bodine, who failed to win a race for the first time in his seven seasons as a full-time NASCAR Camping World Truck competitor.

Results of this year’s polls will be released during next week’s 13th Annual Media Day at Daytona International Speedway.

Raising Kahne’s Profile in the No. 5 car

After doing his civic duty by serving on a jury, opening the Hollywood Casino at Kansas Speedway last Friday, and attending Super Bowl 46 on Sunday, Kasey Kahne set his sights on Speedweeks.

Kahne’s Hendrick Motorsports career at Daytona International Speedway got off to a good start with the fastest lap on the final day of Preseason Thunder testing as well as the fifth-fastest overall of the three-day session at 205.747 mph. The eight-year NASCAR Sprint Cup Series veteran hopes to follow the example of Dale Earnhardt Jr., the last high-profile driver to switch to Hendrick Motorsports, by winning in his first start for Hendrick at the Shootout Saturday night.

With two top-five finishes in his last three points races at the World Center of Racing, Kahne may be closing in on his first Daytona 500 win and the 200th victory for Hendrick Motorsports. “It’s a great opportunity,” Kahne said last month during testing, “and I want to take full advantage of it.”

NASCAR Nationwide Series Gets Set for 30th Season

There have been 23 different champions during the previous 29 seasons and five champions who have won titles in consecutive seasons. Could Ricky Stenhouse Jr., the reigning series champion, become the sixth driver to win back-to-back-titles and the first since Martin Truex Jr. in 2004-05?

Stenhouse is among NASCAR Nationwide Series points-eligible drivers performing double duty during Speedweeks, kicking off his title defense in the Feb. 25 DRIVE4COPD 300 and making his Daytona 500 debut the following afternoon. He’s joined by defending Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne, Elliott Sadler and Danica Patrick.

 Dillon Duo Seek Daytona Do-Over

Last February, Austin and Ty Dillon started their season by winning pole positions at Daytona International Speedway. In his first race at the track, Ty claimed the top spot in ARCA qualifying while Austin earned the Keystone Light Pole Award for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Neither brother was able to follow up with a top-10 finish.  Ty came home 11th and Austin was 20th. However, after leaving Daytona, their seasons  improved and each won the title in their respective series.

You may reach Pete Barber at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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