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NASCAR

Budweiser Shootout: Return of pack drafting at Daytona?

Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: mile tri-oval. Start time: 8:10 p.m. (et). Laps: 75. Miles: 187.5. 2011 Winner: Kurt Busch. Television: FOX. Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Satellite.

The 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season will rev up on Saturday night with the 34th running of the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona International Speedway. This year's scheduled 75-lap, 187.5-mile preseason race will feature a field of 25 cars.

The format for this race is unchanged from last year, but there is a tweak in the eligibility requirements. Drivers finishing among the top-25 in the Sprint Cup point standings this past season as well as active drivers who are not in the top-25 but previously won the Budweiser Shootout, the Daytona 500 or the 400-mile July race at Daytona are eligible.

Trevor Bayne, the 2011 Daytona 500 winner, will not be among the 25 drivers competing in the Budweiser Shootout, since Wood Brothers Racing could not secure sponsorship for his No.21 team in this event. Bayne is entered to compete in the Daytona 500.

Geoffrey Bodine, Derrike Cope, Bill Elliott, Terry Labonte and Ken Schrader are also eligible for the Budweiser Shootout but not participating in the event.

The Budweiser Shootout will serve as a dress rehearsal for the Daytona 500 and Gatorade Duels (twin 150-mile qualifying races for the 500). NASCAR recently revised its rules for restrictor-plate racing in an effort to minimize and perhaps eliminate two-car tandems, which have become an unpopular style of racing at restrictor-plate tracks (Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway). NASCAR is hopeful the rule changes will return pack racing.

"When you pack race, in most instances, if not all, it's important to race the whole time," said Jimmie Johnson, who won the preseason race at Daytona in 2005. "You're going to have to race for the win from the first lap. Unlike what we have now, where you know you can make up so much time in a short period of laps, you'll be much more engaged throughout the race."

NASCAR has also banned communications between drivers on their car radios during a race at plate tracks in another attempt to break up the two-car breakaways.

Most Sprint Cup teams participated in a three-day test session at Daytona last month. During the test, NASCAR gathered data when as many as 20 cars ran in a draft. Further modifications to the restrictor plates and the size of the front grille opening on the cars could be forthcoming.

Teams competing in the Budweiser Shootout will also get a chance to familiarize themselves with the new electronic fuel injection systems during race conditions.

Several drivers will make their debuts with new teams in the Budweiser Shootout. They include: A.J. Allmendinger (Penske Racing), Clint Bowyer (Michael Waltrip Racing), Kurt Busch (Phoenix Racing), Kasey Kahne (Hendrick Motorsports) and David Ragan (Front Row Motorsports).

"It's definitely something to be excited about and look forward to, and I can't wait to get down there and practice a little bit, and then qualifying on Sunday is going to be exciting," Kahne said.

Busch, who drove the No.22 car for Penske last year, is the defending race winner.

Marcos Ambrose and Brad Keselowski are those drivers who are competing in this race for the first time.

The starting lineup for the Budweiser Shootout will be determined during a random drawing held Friday evening at Daytona.