The offseason has morphed into the preseason. And in a couple of weeks, the season-opening Daytona 500 will be upon us.

Tradition is front and center: Thursday’s 12th annual NASCAR Media Day opens Speedweeks activities at Daytona International Speedway, followed by Saturday’s Budweiser Shootout at Daytona and Sunday’s qualifying to set the front row for the 53rd Daytona 500.
All lead up to the following week’s Gatorade Duel, twin qualifying races to complete the Daytona 500 field; the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series NextEra Energy Resources 250 and NASCAR Nationwide Series DRIVE4COPD 300.
The 53rd Daytona 500 is set for 1 p.m. ET Sunday, Feb. 20 (FOX, MRN Radio, Sirius NASCAR Radio to broadcast nationally).
The 2.5-mile superspeedway’s brand-new asphalt surface is at the top of this year’s news. The season opener also will mark the roll-out of a new points system in all three of NASCAR’s national series; a new-look front for the NASCAR Sprint Cup’s Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford and Toyota teams; a new pit road fueling process in both the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and NASCAR Nationwide Series; and the debut of Sunoco Green E15 fuel.
First up is Media Day, during which more than 50 of NASCAR’s stars will lay out their 2011 plans before an expected turnout of 350 print, broadcast and online reporters., ESPN, SPEED and SIRIUS/XM Radio will anchor broadcasts from Thursday’s two sessions – 8 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. until 4 p.m.
Let The Competition Begin … The Budweiser Shootout at Daytona will be held for the 33rd time. The format is unchanged from 2010, with a slight wrinkle in eligibility requirements. Criteria are based upon the following qualifications, with eligibility based on a driver having competed in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series within the last two seasons:
• The 12 drivers that qualified for the 2010 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup
• Past NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions
• Past Budweiser Shootout champions
• Past Daytona 500 and Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola champions
• NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie of the year drivers from 2001-2010
As has been the case since 2003, the Budweiser Shootout will be run in two segments, the first 25 laps and the second a 50-lap sprint for the win. That’s 187.5 miles on the track’s high-banked, repaved, 2.5-mile layout.
Following the first segment, a 10-minute “pit stop” gives crews the opportunity to make normal adjustments to their cars. That means tweaks they would do on a normal pit stop during a regular NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event. Other notes: All work must be done on pit road or in the garage; Teams may not change springs, shocks or rear ends; All green- and yellow-flag laps in both segments will count. Following the 10-minute “pit stop,” the event’s second segment remains a 50-lap sprint for the win.
How cars and drivers perform in their first competitive test of the new asphalt surface should provide greater insight into how the Daytona 500 will unfold.
The 2011 field includes the 2010 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field: Reigning and five-time series champion Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Jeff Burton.
Other drivers eligible for the 2010 Budweiser Shootout, and the criteria that applies to each: John Andretti (Coke Zero 400 winner), Geoff Bodine (Daytona 500 and Budweiser Shootout winner), Kevin Conway (rookie of the year), Derrike Cope (Daytona 500 winner), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Daytona 500, Coke Zero 400 and Budweiser Shootout winner), Bill Elliott (champion, Daytona 500, Coke Zero 400 and Budweiser Shootout winner), Kasey Kahne (rookie of the year), Bobby Labonte (champion), Terry Labonte (champion, Budweiser Shootout Winner), Joey Logano (rookie of the year), Sterling Marlin (Daytona 500, Coke Zero 400 winner), Mark Martin (Budweiser Shootout winner), Jamie McMurray (Daytona 500, Coke Zero 400 winner, rookie of the year), Juan Pablo Montoya (rookie of the year), Ryan Newman (Daytona 500 winner, rookie of the year), Ken Schrader (Budweiser Shootout winner), Regan Smith (rookie of the year) and Michael Waltrip (Daytona 500, Coke Zero 400 winner).
Is there a favorite? There are many but Kevin Harvick has won the past two Budweiser Shootouts and a third victory would be a race record. The event marks the first time the Richard Childress Racing driver has carried the Budweiser colors as a primary sponsor.
New Asphalt Equals Iconic Races … Only two Daytona 500s have been run on “fresh” pavement. NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee Lee Petty won the inaugural 1959 race in a decision not finalized until days after the checkered flag fell. The 1979 race – the first carried live, flag-to-flag on national television - ended with Donnie and Bobby Allison and Cale Yarborough wrestling in the Turn 3 grass following a last-lap accident that handed victory to NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty.
Points Simplified; Catch Cans Eliminated; Ethanol Added To Fuels … The Daytona 500 will see points awarded on a 43-to-one point structure based on finishing position. Race winners receive three bonus points. There is an additional point awarded for laps led and most laps led. A race-winner can receive a maximum of 48 points.
Fueling – and the fuel – is different in 2011. Utilizing the closed loop fuel system that debuted in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, teams no longer will utilize a catch-can crew member. Speedweeks also will debut the Sunoco Green E15 fuel – a blend of gasoline and 15 percent American Ethanol.
Fast Facts
What: 33rd annual Budweiser Shootout At Daytona
Where: Daytona International Speedway
Track Layout: 2.5-mile tri-oval
When: Saturday, Feb. 12
Time: 8:10 p.m. (ET)
TV: FOX, 8 p.m. (ET)
Radio: MRN; SIRIUS/XM Satellite Radio, Channel 128
Distance: 75 laps/187.5 miles (25 laps in first segment; 50 laps in second segment)
2010 Winner: Kevin Harvick
Eligible drivers: John Andretti, Greg Biffle, Geoff Bodine, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Kevin Conway, Derrike Cope, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Bill Elliott, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Bobby Labonte, Terry Labonte, Joey Logano, Sterling Marlin, Mark Martin, Jamie McMurray, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Newman, Ken Schrader, Regan Smith, Tony Stewart, Michael Waltrip.