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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Who’s Hot/Who’s Not in Sprint Cup: 2010 Budweiser Shootout at Daytona Edition

This year’s Bud Shootout might just be a 75-lap exhibition race, but it did illustrate a number of things to understand for what’s ahead this season in Sprint Cup.

One thing is for sure: NASCAR is going to do all they can to let the drivers police themselves out on the track and I couldn’t agree with that more. Fans pay good money to see drivers bump-drafting and it’s a part of the sport that shouldn’t be tampered with.

I’d also like to request that NASCAR return to a Bud Shootout heat race. Have a 10-lap race where drivers that aren’t in the Shootout get a shot at racing their way in. You win the heat race, you’re in the Shootout. Fans would love it.

With that said, here’s a look at my first foray into Frontstretch‘s Who’s Hot/Who’s Not in Sprint Cup.

Here are this week’s HOT, WARM and COLD drivers.

HOT: Kevin Harvick – His second consecutive victory in the Bud Shootout is a clear indication that Harvick is not going to go quietly into the night at Richard Childress Racing. The 2007 Daytona 500 champion had the worst season of his Cup career in 2009 and looks determined to get back on track starting with “The Great American Race.” It also appears that RCR improved its engine program during the offseason.

HOT: Kasey Kahne – After finishing second in the Bud Shootout, Kahne commented that he’s more than satisfied with the Roush-Yates engine package he’ll use this season at Richard Petty Motorsports. Of the four drivers competing at RPM, Kahne is a shoe-in to make the Chase this season and win his fare share of events. If all goes according to plan, Kahne and crew chief Kenny Francis might even be able to knock Jimmie Johnson off his perch.

HOT: Kyle Busch – Finishing fourth with a problematic racecar is proof positive that Busch and crew chief Dave Rogers are loaded for bear this season and determined to make the Chase after missing it last year. Busch will go down as the greatest driver in the history of NASCAR, he just needs so more fine tuning.

WARM: Jamie McMurray – McMurray was in the thick of things during the entire Shootout and I’m sure he and crew chief Kevin “Bono” Manion are going to have something special come Thursday when the boys hit the track for the Duel at Daytona.

WARM: Jeff Gordon – Although Gordon got into the back bumper of Greg Biffle and spun him out on lap 74, Gordon remains one of the best when it comes to getting to the front at Daytona. There’s no reason why the three-time Daytona 500 champion shouldn’t be a strong favorite come Valentine’s Day.

WARM: Johnson – Just because Johnson finished 13th in the Shootout, doesn’t mean the four-time defending Cup champ isn’t ready for the drive for five. I’m sure Chad Knaus told Jimmie to not risk ruining a racecar if they didn’t have a shot at winning the Shootout. That’s just playing it smart. Sure, Johnson didn’t have a strong qualifying effort at Daytona on Saturday, but are you going to go against him this season? I wouldn’t.

COLD: Mark Martin – Martin dumped Kurt Busch in the Shootout. Even though he admitted to his mistake, he should know better. Who knows, right? Maybe dumping Busch was payback from a incident that occurred last season. Martin’s on the pole for the Daytona 500, but I don’t see him winning the race. Take a look at Martin’s stats at tracks like Daytona, it’s just not his cup of tea.

COLD: Carl Edwards – Edwards goes out and leads the most laps in the Shootout but finishes 17th? It just doesn’t make sense. Although Edwards said after the race his pit crew is going to be great, I still seem him struggling to win in 2010. Here’s to hoping I’m wrong and Edwards goes out and wins the Daytona 500.

COLD: Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Someone please explain to me why Earnhardt Jr. didn’t show any enthusiasm whatsoever after qualifying second and being locked into the field for the Daytona 500? He finished 11th in the Shootout and was a complete afterthought the entire night.

Here are the HOT and NOT issues of the week in racing:

HOT: Duel at Daytona – If he doesn’t get wrecked, Bill Elliott is going to impress plenty of people and could even win one of the two races to determine the field for this year’s Daytona 500. Elliott qualified fourth and was the fastest Ford on Saturday. Let’s give kudos to Joe Nemechek and Scott Speed, who also qualified well enough to make the Daytona 500.

NOT: Danica Patrick – JR Motorsports’ decision to enter Patrick into Saturday’s Nationwide race was a great call. Patrick showed she can handle Daytona and there’s no reason why she shouldn’t be in the show. She made an amazing save from keeping her car from going into the fence during the ARCA race and motored to an impressive sixth-place finish.

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