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Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2008 Bud Shootout at Daytona Race Recap

The Key Moment: Even though Dale Earnhardt Jr. had hung new teammate Jimmie Johnson out to dry a lap earlier, Johnson gave the No. 88 the push it needed on the final lap to beat Tony Stewart.

In a Nutshell: Maybe this Earnhardt/Hendrick pairing might work out all right after all.

Dramatic Moment: The last 10 laps when the drivers got down to business had the crowd on its collective feet.

What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week

Combining Earnhardt Jr.’s plate-track prowess with Rick Hendrick’s excellent plate-track equipment might just make Junior unbeatable at Talladega and Daytona.

Note to Junior: Running over your new boss after winning your first race with the team would have been very poor form. Note to Rick Hendrick: Please ensure the car has come to a stop before leaping in front of it.

I guess Stewart didn’t get the memo about working with his extended Toyota teammates? Thank goodness.

Well, it sure didn’t take Stewart and Kurt Busch long to become reacquainted, did it? Stewart endured Media Day in a clearly bad mood, and that carried over on to the racetrack. The pit-road confrontation was an early test of NASCAR’s new policy of “letting the boys be boys,” especially after Stewart allegedly punched Busch while the two were having a little chat in the NASCAR trailer.

Much was made of the fact that the Bud Shootout wasn’t a points race. But for sheer pointlessness, it can’t rival Daytona 500 qualifying. With only the top-two drivers in the session locked into a starting spot, it’s a wonder some of the smaller teams even bother trying to take their runs against the clock. Likewise, the Twin 150 qualifying races – once some of the most exciting racing of Speedweeks – have lost a lot of their luster, with the Top-35 teams in last year’s owner points locked into the field. With drivers having adopted the practice of dropping from good starting spots to the rear of the pack – treading cautiously until the final 10 laps of the race – they might as well decide starting spots by lottery. Yeah, I’d say the thrill is gone… with all due apologies to B.B. King.

HENDERSON: TIME TO PUT THIS BUD ON ICE

I find it interesting that Dario Franchitti is the media’s prohibitive favorite for Rookie of the Year honors, yet Franchitti and his team still haven’t landed a full-season sponsor.

OK, it wasn’t a surprise for me or anyone else in this country; but still, seeing Earnhardt Jr. in anything other than the red No. 8 Bud car is going to take some getting used to.

Here’s something I don’t understand. They run the Bud Shootout at night… during the weekend, when most people have off. And they run the qualifying races on Thursday, starting at 2:00 p.m. when most people are at work. Hmm… I’m seeing part of the problem with those declining ratings here.

He’s back, and just as irritating as ever. Saturday night, I was thinking, “Gee, I hope I win the Powerball lottery tonight so I can quit my job.” Then, I was thinking, “Damn, I hope Darrell Waltrip wins the Powerball lottery tonight so he can quit his job.”

This week, Bruton Smith said that as part of his future pre-race antics, he’d like to feature parachuting pachyderms. That’s right; elephants would (presumably) be pushed from airplanes, and then an automatically deploying parachute would allow them to float gently to earth. Um, fans might want to take cover when that happens. You thought pigeons and seagulls were bad? But it could never happen… right? Just remember, they laughed at Smith when he proposed building condos at his race tracks, as well.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Busch wrecked his primary car in the final moments of Friday night’s practice, then apparently got punched right in the yap by Stewart inside the NASCAR trailer, no less. He was forced to start at the rear of the field in a backup car, but raced to the front before incidental contact caused a fender rub that cut down a tire. He lost a lap, got it back with a caution, then raced to the front… only to lose the car and go for a wild ride, dirt tracking the car around the bottom while watching his chances for a good finish go up in smoke. Oh, and for the record, Busch was battling the flu all weekend.

Bill Elliott‘s 20th start in the Bud Shootout (or similar events with different names over the years) didn’t end well. He cut down a tire and hit the wall hard after having also destroyed his primary car in Friday’s final practice for the event.

Don’t you just know that Budweiser had to be wincing, seeing their former driver win the event they sponsor in his first race with a new sponsor?

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Earnhardt felt he had a tire left loose on his final stop, but this time, it didn’t fall off on the racetrack.

BOWLES: JUNIOR’S WIN STRESS RELIEF, BUT THE PRESSURE’S STILL ON

Stewart survived that altercation with Busch in Friday’s practice and didn’t get his butt booted from the track for throwing a punch. He then went on to finish second in the Shootout, and nobody even made fun of his boy band haircut. Let’s just say it’s going to take a few more years without barbers or razors for Stewart to pull off that Jerry Garcia “fat era” look.

Johnson and Jeff Gordon both wrecked their primary cars in Friday night’s practice (there was a lot of that going around) and weren’t very happy with their backup cars in the first 20-lap segment. Gordon even felt he had an engine going flat; still, they both came away with top-five finishes.

Worth Noting

  • Well, it looks like another long season for everyone else at first blush, as Hendrick-owned cars claimed four of the top six finishing positions Saturday night. And something else hasn’t changed, either… Casey Mears‘s No. 5 car was found to be too low during post-race inspection. Conspiracists, start your engines!
  • The top-10 finishers drove five Chevys, three Toyotas and two Dodges. The best-finishing Ford was Carl Edwards, who finished 12th and hopefully got his long overdue bathroom break.
  • Stewart and Johnson were the only two drivers to post top-10 finishes in the 2007 and 2008 Bud Shootouts. Mark Martin was the only other driver with top 10s in both events. Stewart now has top-five finishes in the last four Shootouts.

What’s the Points?

There aren’t any. I just wish it would stay that way all season.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): We’ll give this one four-and-a-half cans of cold Budweisers. Yeah, good luck with that Kasey Kahne thing, guys.

Next Up: The Twin 150 qualifying races are slated for Thursday, with the Daytona 500 to follow next Sunday. Temper your enthusiasm.

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