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NASCAR Final Budweiser Shootout for Martin and Wallace



Published: Sat, February 12, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Both Nextel Cup veterans said they will be competitive this season.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Mark Martin and Rusty Wallace will begin saying a season-long good-bye to stock car racing tonight.

While both are preparing for their final full seasons of NASCAR Nextel Cup racing, each is determined it won't be a sad farewell.

"I think Rusty feels the same way I do," Martin said. "We both want to go out on a high note, as competitive race drivers."

Martin, 46, finished fourth in the points last year and goes into the 2005 season as one of at least a dozen drivers considered contenders for the Cup championship. The 48-year-old Wallace ended a 105-race winless string last season and expects to run near the front of the pack this year.

"I don't plan to go out quietly," Wallace said, grinning. "We have everything we need to win races."

Shootout success

A great start for either one of the veterans would be a victory in the Budweiser Shootout tonight at Daytona International Speedway, a race each has won once. Martin stormed back from 13th to beat Kenny Schrader by a car length in 1999. Wallace won the previous year, holding off younger brother Kenny as they raced to the checkered flag.

"I've always thought the Bud Shootout was a great way to start the season off," said Martin, who will be making his 18th start and 17th in a row in the non-points race for last year's pole winners and former winners of the made-for-TV event.

"It's one of those rare races where second place means nothing and you just have to go out there and put everything on the line to win the thing. That's my kind of racing."

Wallace, who will be starting his 19th Shootout, echoed his longtime rival, saying, "If you can win the Shootout, you get your season off on the right foot and give you whole team a big boost of confidence. And that race is usually a pretty good preview of the 500."

It would also be an enormous thrill for Martin or Wallace to finish at the front of the Daytona 500, NASCAR's most prestigious race and one neither has won.

"I haven't won the Daytona 500, and I doubt there's too many people out there who are not aware of that fact," said Wallace, the 1989 series champion and winner of 55 Cup races. "I got close many, many times.

"I'd love to go into my final year knowing I've finally got a 500 victory under my belt when we leave Daytona. That would be a special feeling."

High expectations

And, as long as he is dreaming, Wallace is dreaming big.

"What would be my ultimate thing this year would be to win the 500 and win the final race at Homestead," he said. "That would be pretty hot if I could pull it off."

Martin is a little less ambitious.

"I'd love a top-five finish," he said. "I'd like a top-10 finish. I'd be much happier with a 20th-place finish than 43rd, like last year. The big thing is it's very important to me to get off to a better start than last year."

Both drivers say that building some momentum in tonight's 70-lap event -- divided into segments of 20 and 50 laps, with a mandatory pit stop in the second segment -- is important.

To do that will take some work, with Martin starting 14th and Wallace 15th in the 20-car field.

Defending champion Dale Jarrett got the pole and Greg Biffle the second spot in a blind draw for position.

Others in the race are Bill Elliott, Brian Vickers, Schrader, reigning Cup champion Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart, Ricky Rudd, Jeremy Mayfield, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne, Joe Nemechek, Jimmie Johnson, Casey Mears, Bobby Labonte and Geoffrey Bodine.




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