Get Ready to Start Your Engines!

Posted by imelda sovzky on Saturday, February 11, 2012

By Sherri BreatonIn Play! Magazine

Photo Courtesy of Nascar.com
The off-season may have been extended by only a week but for fans like myself along with countless other race fans, it feels like an eternity. In only six more sleeps the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series "unofficially" kicks off with the 34th annual Budweiser Shootout at the Daytona International Speedway on Saturday, Feb. 18. (start time set for 8:10 pm/et. FOX Sports). The Daytona 500 the following weekend is the official start to the race for the Chase.

I am eternally grateful that NASCAR has the shortest off-season of all professional sports. The championship wraps up just prior to American Thanksgiving and kicks off just after that other U.S. holiday.. Superbowl Sunday! Going to Speedweek at Daytona is on my "Bucket List" but in the meantime, my family will continue its ritual of eating fried bologna sandwiches while yelling at the tv dressed in our favourite driver's jerseys (and in my case socks, hat, underwear and a sticker on my face...hey it all helps right? I even garden with my #48 sheepskin gloves and you should see my raspberries!!).

The Bud Shootout is a fun way for both the drivers and fans alike to begin the season each year. With no championship points on the line, and a large purse of prize money, the Shootout is an all out balls to the wall street fight. Criteria for the non-points race are based upon the following qualifications, with eligibility based on a driver having been active in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series during the 2011 season:

• The highest ranked 25 competitors in 2011 Driver Points
• Previous winners at Daytona, including the Daytona 500, Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola, and Budweiser Shootout events

Joie Chitwood III, President of the Daytona International Speedway stated that “The criteria for the 2012 Budweiser Shootout ensures race fans that the best NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers will battle for a coveted victory on the historic high banks. Throughout its long history, the Budweiser Shootout has produced plenty of fireworks on the track and race fans can expect another exciting star-studded night of racing as we kick off the new NASCAR season.”

For those unfamiliar with the format, it's run a little differently than the usual NASCAR Sprint Cup point races. The event runs a total of 187.5 miles in two segments -First a 25-lap segment kicks things off followed by a 10-minute intermission (at this time teams are allowed to do any work that would normally be done during a pit stop). The drivers then lineup for a final 50-lap mad dash to the finish line.

Daytona International Speedway is a large 2.5 mile tri-oval. The turns feature 31 degrees of banking in the turns & 18 degrees of banking in the front tri-oval. Daytona is one of the tracks on the circuit that requires restrictor plates creating 2-car drafting tandem dance that fans have come to expect and some hate. A restrictor plate is a device used to reduce air flow and horsepower in a nascar engine. The restrictor plates are used at Talledega and Daytona to reduce speeds for safety. While it can make for exciting viewing as cars are literally stuck to each other's tails, you won't see the 3 and 4 wide passes and movement around the track as you would see at the other tracks.

I am personally looking forward to the debut of Kasey Kahne wearing a Hendrick Motorsports fire suit. Kahne will be participating in all of the upcoming Speedweek activities despite undergoing successful outpatient knee surgery this past Friday morning for a torn left meniscus. HMS must think he is healthy enough to drive because they have no plans to have a backup driver on standby. I am really hoping for great things this year from Kasey. He is an incredibly talented young driver and I think having the very successful Hendrick team behind him will finally allow him to shine.

Last year's winner was none other than bad boy Kurt Busch. Interestingly and not surprisingly, Kurt was recently named in a Forbes.com article, citing a Nielsen/E-Poll Market Research survey as America's 10th-most disliked athlete! ( A little more next week on KuBu. I honestly hope that if I am mentioning Kurt in my blog this season that it is for positive reasons and not for ripping a respected NASCAR icon-Dr. Jerry Punch- a proverbial new one while awaiting a TV throw for an interview. Time to clean up for your act Kurt!)

Of course all eyes will be focused on last years Sprint Cup Winner Tony Stewart to see if he is able to recapture that momentum that drove him to capturing that much coveted Cup. This quote, from Stewart-Haas Racing team mate Ryan Newman's crew chief Tony Gibson. pretty much sums up why people love the rough and tumble Stewart, “You know, Stewart's just an old redneck guy that loves to race and will drive everything.” . Incidentally Tony Stewart fans, Tony will be appearing (as himself) on Tim Allen's TV show, "Last Man Standing" on ABC this Tuesday Feb 14th at 8pm EST.

You might as well know now that Tony Stewart is my arch enemy as far as on the domestic front is concerned as he is my husband Rick's favourite driver. I am a die-hard Jimmie Johnson fan, driver of the #48 Chevy. I am not a band wagon jumper, I have been a fan since his debut on the NASCAR scene on the Busch circuit in 2000. The rivalry can get pretty intense but when it comes down to it we both respect the driving abilities of each other's driver (having won EIGHT championships between them, but I must point out that Jimmie won his FIVE YEARS IN A ROW..enough said? haha it never gets old saying that!!) and genuinely cheer on the other's driver when our own ends up out of contention.

Me & Rick @ MIS 2010

A lot of people ask me "how can you watch that sport, if you can even call it a sport...". Yes I have heard 'em all, "what's so hard about turning left, turning left, turning left?" or my favourite "why don't you just flush a package of Skittles down the toilet and watch them go around and around and around?". As a female fan I am subjected to even further ridicule, "what does a woman know about cars?". That my friends is the beauty of NASCAR. You see, I can hold my own watching a football game without looking too uneducated about the sport. Personally I am more mesmerized by their tushes in tights. Hockey? Hell I was raised in a rink, a veritable rink rat. My brother was a childhood team mate of Bob Probert for crying out loud. I know my hockey too. Do I ENJOY watching it or going to the games? The Windsor Spitfires...you betcha...the NHL..not so much. Thankfully I married a race fan too! I don't need to really KNOW about cars (how to change a tire, where the wiper fluid goes etc) to understand racing. There is so much more the winning a race then how fast a pit crew can change a tire on a stop.

As many of you may have heard out of the mouths of race fans, "go to a race and you will be hooked". It's not just the tire dust, the noise, the food or the race itself...its the PEOPLE! No I am not going to stereotype anyone here. What I mean is this is the only sport where you are not one side pitted against the other. Its not the Wings against the Leafs. Its not the Lions against the Bears. Its 25 drivers, many team mates but striving for individual success. You will see entire families sporting their "#88" Dale Jr. paraphanelia (the JR Nation has an amazing presence at almost every race anywhere and the crowd goes insane every time Dale takes the lead in any given race). You will also see entire families all sporting completely different drivers on their backs and heads. THAT is what makes it fun! Everyone in those stands is there to cheer on THEIR driver, but in the end you always cheer for whoever takes the checkered flag (unless it's one of the Busch brothers!!).

Follow along each week as I talk about what's going on in the world of NASCAR both on and around the tracks, not just from a "woman's point of view", but that of a FAN. I will mainly be covering the Sprint Cup Series but will definitely touch upon the Nationwide Series and the occasional report on the Camping World Truck Series as well. Get ready to go "green" as we head into our unofficially official first week of racing! Let's go racing boys (and girls!)!!
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