DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. Dale Jarrett is still at the front in the Budweiser Shootout.
After holding off favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win last year's Shootout, the three-time Daytona 500 winner picked the top starting spot in the 19-car field for Saturday night's race in a blind draw Thursday.
''The Shootout is the perfect race to have at night because it is such a spectacle,'' said Jarrett, a three-time winner of the 70-lap, made-for-TV event for last season's pole winners and former Shootout winners. ''It's just about winning. It doesn't matter where else you finish in this race.
''Obviously, we didn't have the fastest car in that race last year, but I was able to put our car in front of what was probably the fastest car at the end, which was Junior's car. So that helped us win that race.''
The hard-earned victory last year helped the 1999 NASCAR champion get started on a strong comeback season after a miserable 2003, during which he had only one top-five finish a victory in the second race of the season.
''The Shootout win certainly was great considering the year we'd had in 2003, so it was a great confidence booster for our team,'' Jarrett said. ''It wasn't an indicator of how we would perform at the beginning of last season but it was a great mood lifter for the UPS team.''
Starting alongside Jarrett in the front row Saturday at Daytona International Speedway will be Greg Biffle, with Bill Elliott and Brian Vickers in the second row, followed by Ken Schrader and Nextel Cup champion Kurt Busch.
Ryan Newman, who led all qualifiers last season with eight poles, will start seventh, followed by Tony Stewart, Ricky Rudd, Jeremy Mayfield, Jeff Gordon, Earnhardt, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace, Joe Nemechek, Jimmie Johnson, Casey Mears, Bobby Labonte and Geoffrey Bodine.
The Shootout is divided into segments of 20 and 50 laps. Teams are required to make one pit stop sometime during the final segment.
Tommy Baldwin, crew chief for Kahne, last year's top Cup rookie, said the key to the race is the pit stop.
''You can only go 37 or 38 laps on a tank of fuel, so it all depends on when and if the caution falls,'' Baldwin said. ''If the caution doesn't come out, that leaves you with a green-flag pit stop, and then it becomes even more crucial. You've got to have a quick pit stop to have a chance.''
Tires also can play a big part in the outcome of the race.
Earnhardt's decision to take only two tires on his stop in the 2003 Shootout paid off as he restarted in sixth behind cars that took only fuel on their stops. He outran them all to a victory that year and now has finished a win, two runner-up finishes and a sixth in four tries.
''I expect a lot of the same in the Shootout, a lot of pushing, shoving, blocking and weaving,'' Earnhardt said. ''Last year, some of the guys ended up in the fence, and some of the others crashed their cars up a little bit. I guess it's my job to make sure we're not one of them, so maybe we can go out there and win this thing again.''
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