NASCAR circus rolls into Daytona Beach

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The 2009 NASCAR season hasn't started yet, but the drivers and teams rolled into Daytona Beach this week to begin preparations for Saturday's Budweiser Shootout and for Sunday's Daytona 500 qualification runs. For the 51st year, the action will take place on the high banks at the Daytona International Speedway.
Prior to firing the engines, 49 drivers met with the media on Thursday and dozens of print, television and radio reporters gathered around to obtain their insights into the season ahead. Representing the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, the Nationwide Series and the newly entitled Camping World Truck Series, the drivers were photographed in uniform -- many of whom were seen for the first time with their new team names and sponsor logos. Not unexpectedly, superstars Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, Mark Martin and Jimmie Johnson grabbed the lion's share of the spotlight. Also, the presence of NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France added importance to the day's activities.
In a pre-season poll, the media predicted Edwards would succeed three-time champion Johnson for the coveted Sprint Cup crown. Edwards finished with 70 first-place votes compared to Johnson's 37. Kyle Busch, Gordon, Earnhardt Jr. and Greg Biffle rounded out the top-six. The outcome pleased Edwards but not Johnson. "It is not annoying and everyone is entitled to their opinion," Johnson said. "The odds are stacked against us winning it again, as no one has ever done it before. From my perspective, I truthfully think we do have a shot at a fourth championship and should be ranked No. 1. When you look at our stats and see what we have done over the last three years, I think it should lean that way. But the poll does make for good pre-season hype."
Edwards had been tabbed as the favorite previously and it didn't work out. "There's no pressure on me because of a poll," he said. "People picked me for 2006, but it didn't work out. Winning nine races and having a great year in 2008 was okay, but I would take a championship with no wins any time. My goal is to win the championship." In 2008, Edwards believes mishaps at Talladega and Charlotte derailed his championship effort, but he doesn't let it affect his outlook. "It is tough to win when Jimmie ran as well as he did. We did outperform their team in many races." Johnson projected the ban on testing will not impact Daytona activities but it may show be noticeable at the forthcoming California and Las Vegas events. "If testing is an equalizer, it will be obvious; if it separates us more, it will be obvious, too." About phenomenon Joey Logano's upcoming rookie season, Johnson compared the teenager to Denny Hamlin, who moved ahead without an abundance of experience. "Joey will have an opportunity to create his own destiny at Daytona. He has shown his smarts, and Joe Gibbs and company wouldn't be putting their faith in him unless they thought he could do it." By comparison, Johnson said he only had three or four plate races under his belt before competing in the Daytona 500, and Logano is in nearly the same situation.
Ryan Newman, the 2008 Daytona 500 winner, has joined Stewart-Haas Racing for the new season, but he's not in the Budweiser Shootout. He will watch the race from Stewart's pit box or the team's motor home.
Jeff Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Photo by Eric Gilbert.
Elliott Sadler is in the Budweiser Shootout for the fourth time and hopes the race will help alleviate the tension that arose within his team due to his contractual problems. For a while, it looked like Sadler had been given his walking papers by the Gillett Evernham Motorsports team, but after extended negotiations, he returned to the team, now called Richard Petty Motorsports. "Everything is resolved, and it is all behind us," Sadler said. "Everything should be fine and there are a lot of new guys on the team, even a new pit crew. And there's a lot of motivation in Elliott Sadler." The Virginia native is thrilled to be racing under the Petty banner. "How many drivers have driven for the legendary Wood Brothers and the Petty teams? Richard's presence is an advantage to me and I want to feed off of him." A.J. Allmendinger will be with the Petty team for at least a few races, and Sadler believes the team will be stronger with the latter's presences. "I want A. J. to run well, and I want to help him with sponsorship. We will be stronger as a four-car team than we would be as a three-car team." The Budweiser Shootout field will hold its initial practice session on Friday at 4:15 p.m. EST followed by another practice in the evening. The 75-lap race will take the green flag on Saturday at 8:10 p.m. EST.

Source from : motorsport