Dale Earnhardt Jr. started the Budweiser Shootout on a promising note by running up front and leading three times for four laps in his No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet, but his hopes of winning the season-opening exhibition event were dashed after he was collected in a mid-race incident.
The 24-car field was composed of the top 12 drivers from the 2010 Cup season, past Sprint Cup Series champions and previous winners of the Budweiser shootout, Daytona 500, July Daytona, as well as Rookie of the Year victors from the past 10 seasons.
Earnhardt qualified for this year’s shootout as a previous winner of the Daytona 500, the July Daytona event and the Budweiser Shootout. This year’s event was made up of a 25-lap segment followed by a 10-minute break and a 50-lap sprint to the checkered flag.
Earnhardt’s pole starting position was determined by a random drawing during Friday night’s traditional Draw Party, which established the field for the exhibition event.
At the drop of the green flag, the 36-year-old driver held steady at the front of the field, and by Lap 6, he took over the top spot and maintained his footing inside the top 10 during the opening segment.
Earnhardt was running third in his blue-and-white Chevrolet when the caution flag waved on Lap 25, signaling the end of the opening segment. Earnhardt steered his No. 88 Chevy onto pit road for the 10-minute break, and the crew bolted on four fresh tires to the National Guard machine.
The field went back to green for a 50-lap dash, and Earnhardt hooked up with teammate Jimmie Johnson for a two-car draft, but just four laps into the second segment, another competitor made hard contact with the No. 88 machine, causing heavy damage.
"Well, I was just running along there,” Earnhardt said. “Jimmie (Johnson) and I were trying to work together and get ready for our pit stop, but we were hooked in the rear, the right-rear quarter panel, and I was watching it.”
“You know, when I saw this gold car coming at me and I thought I had it saved for a second but it’s hard to drive them that fast when they’re out of control, but it was fun.”
Crew chief Steve Letarte called his driver to garage and called it a night, and Earnhardt was credited with a 19th-place finish.