The wait is almost over.
The 2011 NASCAR season officially begins this weekend with the running of the Budweiser Shootout on Saturday and qualifying for the Daytona 500 on Sunday.
The Budweiser Shootout will feature the Top 12 drivers from the 2010 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, past Sprint Cup winners, past Budweiser Shootout winners, past Daytona 500 and Coke Zero 400 winners and NASCAR Rookie of the Year drivers from 2001-2010.
Sunday’s qualifying session is the first step for drivers to qualify for the Daytona 500. The two fastest drivers will secure the front row for the Feb. 20 Daytona 500, while the rest of the field tries to qualify through the Daytona Duels, scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 17.
Last year, Kevin Harvick won the Shootout for the second consecutive time and he’ll be back to defend his title this weekend. Harvick will attempt to become the first Sprint Cup driver to have three consecutive wins in the event. There have been eight multiple winners - Harvick, Tony Stewart, Dale Jarrett, Neil Bonnett, Ken Schrader, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Dale Earnhardt (six times-most ever); Bonnett, Schrader and Stewart join Harvick as having back-to-back wins.
Harvick is scheduled to return to Kansas Speedway twice this year in the Sprint Cup series, on June 5 and October 9, as he looks to build upon the success he had last year when he finished third in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
As the 2011 season revs into high gear, all indications seem to suggest that the other Sprint Cup teams have improved their programs in an effort to unseat Jimmie Johnson this year.