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From the Notebook: Gordon can make statistical impact

February 14, 2012, Dave Rodman,

From the Notebook: Gordon looking to add to resume with Shootout win

Jeff Gordon, the original four-time Cup Series champion who was shoved aside by Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson when Johnson won five consecutive championships, from 2006-2010, has the chance to make several significant statistical impacts this Speedweeks.

Gordon would like nothing more than to start his potential championship run with his fourth Daytona 500 victory, which would also mark Hendrick Motorsports' 200th Cup Series win. But he has more potential marks on the line.

Unlikely partners?

Joe Gibbs Racing liked to keep knowledge and information to itself. But Joe Menzer says the team sees the benefit of teaming with Toyota-backed Michael Waltrip Racing.

When Gordon takes the green flag for Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout -- the first NASCAR event of Speedweeks 2012 at Daytona International Speedway -- it will be his 19th consecutive start. That's third on the list of overall Shootout starts, behind Bill Elliott and Mark Martin, who are tied with 23. Martin has the most consecutive starts, with 20 between 1989 and 2008.

If he can win Saturday night Gordon, already one of eight multiple winners of the event with two victories (1994 and 1997), can move into a tie for second with three-time winners Tony Stewart and Dale Jarrett. They trail six-time winner Dale Earnhardt.

Gordon is one of five drivers, with inaugural 1979 Shootout winner Buddy Baker, Earnhardt (1980), Jarrett (1996) and Denny Hamlin (2006) who won their first Shootout appearance. Gordon made his event debut in 1994.

The mark Gordon would most like to equal would be establishing him as the second driver, with Jarrett, to win the Shootout and Daytona 500 in the same year for the second time. Gordon became one of five drivers to do it for the first time, in 1997.

Related: Stewart's success has Gordon lighting new fire

Martin has serene seat for Shootout

When the Budweiser Shootout was a special event for pole winners, Martin was a lock to participate, as he did for 20 consecutive seasons -- even though Daytona's style of racing isn't Martin's favorite.

When the qualifying parameters changed and Martin dropped back to less than a full schedule, his streak ended. But as Martin again drops back to a partial schedule, in his first year with Michael Waltrip Racing after three full seasons with Hendrick Motorsports, the 30-year veteran has a special seat reserved for the 34th-annual event.

The 1999 Shootout winner will sit atop Michael Waltrip's pit box as Waltrip attempts to give Toyota its first Shootout victory in the No. 55 he'll share this season with Martin. Martin, who'll run 24 of 36 point races plus the Sprint All-Star Race, will practice another No. 55 on Saturday preparing for Sunday's single-car qualifying for the Daytona 500 at 1 p.m. ET.

"I'm going to put on my Aaron's shirt, a radio headset and climb right up there on the pit box with [crew chief] Rodney [Childers] and watch Michael race," Martin said. "I'll be rooting him on, but who knows, maybe I'll get on the radio with him. There's a lot we can learn from Saturday night's race that we can apply to the Thursday qualifying races and the Daytona 500. Every little bit you learn helps."

Waltrip will drive the No. 55 in the Shootout plus six point races, including all the remaining restrictor plate events. MWR will fill the remaining races with a driver to be named later.

Truex predicts unpredictability

NASCAR's has continuously tweaked its speedway rules package, during tests in November and January at Daytona and even since then, trying to eliminate two-car drafts as much as they can. How much remains to be seen, but Michael Waltrip Racing's Martin Truex Jr. is in good company when he says the Shootout will be the great unknown.

"It's a good race for everyone to get back into the racing mode -- it's a race, but it is not the Daytona 500 so the pressure isn't there," Truex said. "This race is about learning a few things, drafting with new teammates and winning. With all the rule changes, we'll get a good idea of what we need to work on for the 500.

"I think we are going to see both the two-car draft and big-pack racing. With the amount of times that we are going to have to switch, it's going to cause congestion. It's going to make a big pack at some point. How long the pack will last? I don't know until we get out there. There are a bunch of variables -- driver movement, weather conditions and what the new rule package creates on-track."

Hendrick backs Busch, again

Team owner Rick Hendrick was given a lot of credit for supporting Kurt Busch in his unexpected transition from Penske Racing to Phoenix Racing after the end of last season. Hendrick has stepped-up again with financial support for Phoenix owner James Finch in the form of sponsorship for two of Busch's Speedweeks events., the new website for Hendrick's auto dealership group, will be on Busch's No. 51 Sprint Cup Chevrolet for the Daytona 500 and its qualifying events and on Finch's No. 1 Nationwide Series Chevrolet for the Drive4COPD 300.

"Last year's Daytona 500 broadcast alone averaged more than 15 million viewers, and we expect 2012 will be even stronger," Hendrick said. "Combined with our sponsorship in the Nationwide Series, that's 10s of millions of people seeing our brand, hearing our message and then visiting We wanted to showcase the new site, and there's no more effective marketing tool than NASCAR."

Finch, the maverick Florida construction and entrepreneurial tycoon, wasn't one to disagree.

"We're proud to have as our primary sponsor for both races in Daytona," said Finch, who also secured Tag Heuer backing for his Budweiser Shootout car. "The Hendrick people know how well sponsorships like this work when they're done the right way. Daytona is a big opportunity for our team to build some positive momentum to start the season. Having a sponsor for Speedweeks means a lot to us, and we're going to do everything we can to put up front."

Related: Busch owes debt of gratitude to Sabates

Bowyer mixing it up

Clint Bowyer will make his first start for Michael Waltrip Racing in the Budweiser Shootout, but he's already gotten plenty of test laps in his new ride, the No. 15 Toyota.

Bowyer kicked off his tenure with MWR at a three-day test at Walt Disney World Speedway on Dec. 13-15, 2011. Bowyer also tested at New Smyrna Speedway in Samsula, Fla., on Jan. 10 and participated in NASCAR's Preseason Thunder test at Daytona on Jan. 12-14. The No. 15 team participated in the Goodyear tire test at Texas Motor Speedway on Feb. 7-8.

Bowyer, who attended the New York Giants' NFL Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots, is also fired up over the season kickoff for his Clint Bowyer Dirt Motorsports team. New driver Jonathan Davenport won two home-state victories last weekend with a $20,000 score at Waycross Motor Speedway on Saturday and a $10,000 win at Golden Isles Speedway outside Brunswick on Sunday.

Bowyer also filmed several new commercials that will debut during the first few races of the 2012 Sprint Cup season. 5-hour Energy will debut its first commercial featuring Bowyer during the Daytona 500 on Feb. 26. Other commercials featuring Bowyer will include Sprint, AAA and NASCAR.COM.

Watson drives at Phoenix

PGA touring golf pro Bubba Watson's known for his booming 300-plus-yard drives on the tour's golf courses. But at the Sprint Cup Series' second round, at Phoenix International Raceway, he'll be driving the "General Lee" from Dukes of Hazard fame during a ceremonial parade lap as part of his duties as honorary race official at the Subway Fresh Fit 500.

Watson, a Bagdad, Fla., native who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., purchased the General Lee at the Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auction in his home town in January.

"We are really excited to have Bubba join us for the Subway Fresh Fit 500," Speedway president Bryan Sperber said. "The fact that he's bringing the General Lee just takes it to a whole new level. I think the fans are going to be pumped to see them both."