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NASCAR season just around the corner

NASCAR fans have endured 82 days without seeing live competition on the track since the 2007 season wrapped up last November 18 at Homestead.

That will soon change with the running of the Bud Shootout Saturday night in Daytona, the Gatorade Duels next Thursday, and the 50th Daytona 500 next Sunday.

Even though competition has been on the back-burners for almost three months, the race teams have been far from stagnant. Work on the 2008 COT racecars has been in full swing since the middle of 2007 and teams started testing at Daytona a month ago.

Regardless, I am excited the season is starting Saturday night.

The Bud Shootout is a race with only the previous season’s pole winners competing. Adding to those guys is any driver who has won this race in the past. This edition will host 23 drivers, 18 were 2007 pole winners and five have won this race in the past. 

The past winners include Tony Stewart (hard to believe Smoke didn’t win a pole in 2007), Dale Jarrett, Mark Martin, Bill Elliott, and Ken Schrader.  I look forward to seeing Elliott and Schrader in this race, I never get tired of watching those old-school guys drive a racecar.

The starting line-up was determined by random draw last Thursday night. The draw was televised live on the Speed Channel was a lot of fun to watch. Kenny Wallace hosted the event and driver chose a Budweiser bottle at random with a numbered flag inside.

The number inside the bottle represented that driver’s starting position. Kurt Busch will start on the pole and Ryan Newman will bring up the rear. But, we are talking about Daytona, so starting positions really don’t mean much.

The race will consist of two segments, similar to the All-Star race at Charlotte. The first segment will be 20 laps, followed by a 10-minute intermission. The final segment will be 50 laps and cannot end under caution. Should be exciting, as is always the case when no points are at stake and a big paycheck awaits the winner.

In looking over the 2008 roster of full-time drivers, there are five drivers that finished in the top 35 last season who are out of rides this season. David Stremme finished 24th last season in the no 40 Ganassi Dodge. He was booted from that ride in favor of open wheeler Dario Franchitti.

Stremme couldn’t land another cup ride and will run a partial schedule for Rusty Wallace in the Busch….oops, I mean Nationwide Series this year. I would be surprised is Dario has a better showing than Stremme had last season.

Tony Raines lost his Hall of Fame Racing ride when the team was sold to a group from Phoenix. The new owners, Jeff Moorad and Tom Garfinkel, chose J.J. Yeley to fill that seat. Yeley also hails from the Phoenix area.

Too bad for Raines, a guy who, although not ultra successful, was solid all year and posted 29th place finish for a single-car team. Only Robby Gordon finished higher with a single-car team.

Ward Burton will again be on the sidelines are Morgan McClure Motorsports lost its sponsor and has basically shut down operations. That sponsor, State Water Heaters, moved to CNC Haas Racing which dismissed both full time drivers from 2007, Johnny Sauter and Jeff Green in favor of Jeremy Mayfield and Scott Riggs. Neither Sauter nor Green has been able to secure a cup ride, so we’ll see those guys on Saturdays in the Nationwide series.

These guys are good racecar drivers and I hope they land on their feet and we see them with the big boys again.

Jeff Findley is the Publisher of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald and Gates County Index. He can be reached via email at jeff.findley@r-cnews.com.