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Carl Edward and Kevin Harvick, front-row centerstage for the Daytona Shootout, and just what to expect?

  Will Carl Edwards provide some hot action in the Shootout? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Hey, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! Every flake that is helping blanket the East Coast looks like a another tick up in NASCAR's TV ratings this Saturday.
   And this snowstorm, ironically, couldn't come at a more propitious moment for NASCAR.
   Shades of '79, will this Bud Shootout (8 p.m. ET Fox) provide a well-needed pop to the stock car tour?
   Well, Dale Earnhardt Jr. looks fast, and if he can keep up the pace and provide some action in this 75-lap sprint, things could well be on the turnaround for the sport, which has taken some hits the past two years, in ratings and attendance.
   NASCAR execs, after meeting with team owners and drivers, decided a few weeks ago to take a hands-off approach to driver-versus-driver out there on the track, and let drivers police themselves. The word is 'It's okay to be a race driver again and let your emotions flow.'
   And if the first few laps around Daytona International Speedway were any indication – with two crashes, and six teams going to backups – things could get hot and heavy around here during SpeedWeeks.
   Carl Edwards drew the pole for the 187-mile shootout, with Kevin Harvick (recovering from the flu) on the outside of the 24-car pack. Both men are trying to come back from a disappointing and winless 2009.
   Jeff Burton, also on the comeback trail, was he's not sure just how the drivers will take to the new NASCAR policy, which seems to imply roughhouse racing is going to okay....up to a point.
   Just where is that point?
   "I honestly don't know what it means...and we won't know what it means until the incident happens, right?" Burton says with a grin.
   "I think they're saying they're going to police Daytona and Talladega the same way they police Charlotte.  That's the way I understand it. 
    "Which means rarely does NASCAR penalize a driver for rough driving."
    Unless it's blatantly obvious, like that little scuffle between Juan Pablo Montoya and Tony Stewart last fall.
    So will this change in policing improve the racing, and provide more action?
   "The fans want to see results," Burton says flatly.
    "I think the fans have been speaking for the last three or four years: 'We want to see different results. We want to see this different, we want to see that different.'
    "If we give it to them, and it's different...and ultimately the racing doesn't improve from it, then, yes, I think it will be a critical year." 
    And just what do drivers think about that new policy? Well, they were rather critical of what they considered NASCAR's 'over-policing' at times last year.
    Burton says he's fine with it: "I think that's how it should be -- that we should be allowed to race here the same way we race at Charlotte."
    So bump-draft, even slam-draft, to your heart's content?
    NASCAR tried to police that type of racing, which was an unexpected consequence of the car-of-tomorrow's matching bumpers, when drivers started pushing each other all the way around the track at Talladega, even in the corners, to pick up speed.

  Jeff Burton (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   As bumpy as Daytona is in the turns, it's hard to bump-draft like that here, but drivers do push each other down the straights, including the tricky front-stretch trioval.
   "Most of the wrecks didn't happen because of bump drafting," Burton insists. "Most of the wrecks happened because of poor judgment. 
    "By the way, that's the way most wrecks happen...whether it's Martinsville, Charlotte or here. Poor judgment. 
     "I don't think there should be a bump drafting rule; that needs to be in our hands. 
     "I'm perfectly comfortable with that."
    NASCAR has also considered eliminating the yellow out-of-bounds rule, but that hasn't yet been changed.
    "I'm glad they kept the yellow-line rule," Burton says. "The yellow-line rule is all-but a necessity." 
      And what about the post-Daytona part of the season ahead?
     Burton says the racing will be a lot better overall because of Goodyear's extensive testing last season, after several issues in 2008.
     "Goodyear has done such a better job with the tires," Burton said "If you really start paying attention to the races in the last third of the year, the races got way better because the tires got better."
    And that, Burton says, is a good indicator of what to expect this season.
    However there is one little fly in that ointment: NASCAR's new flat-blade rear spoiler, which will replace the rear deck wing, around the end of March (there will be testing at Talladega and Charlotte in mid-March).
    Burton says he's still scratching his head over that thing, even after testing it several times, at places like Rockingham: "I don't know what's going to happen with the spoiler.  If anybody tells you they do, they're crazy.
    "I think it's going to be interesting; I think it's going shake things up a little bit.
    "The spoiler is a big change.
     "I think it's a big change. We'll see."

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The Starting Lineup for Saturday's Bud Shootout at Daytona




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