With six nominations apiece, Brad Paisley and Brooks & Dunn look to go head to head for some of the most coveted trophies at this year's Country Music Association Awards, and the artists are stoked for the competition.
" 'Shocking' is a pretty good word," said Kix Brooks, who attributes Brooks & Dunn's six nominations to the group's renewed commitment to its music with last year's "Hillbilly Deluxe" album.
"We're really proud of this album. I feel like all the rest of the nominations are just byproducts from a good album. That's usually the way it works."
Brooks & Dunn face Paisley in the race for entertainer of the year, album of the year and song of the year at the show on Nov. 6 at Nashville's Gaylord Entertainment Center.
Among the other most-nominated artists, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban and Kenny Chesney follow with four nominations apiece, while Dolly Parton and Rascal Flatts each received three nods.
The Nov. 6 awards show will air live on ABC.
Paisley: 'Dolly Makes It Special'
Paisley's six nominations give him 33 over the course of his career, but he isn't getting tired of hearing his name called every year.
"What would get old is not getting [nominations]," he said.
In three of the categories, Paisley is nominated for teaming up with country music legend Dolly Parton on "When I Get Where I'm Going," and that's especially meaningful for the 33-year-old star.
"It's one thing to have had a hit with Dolly Parton on it," Paisley said. "But to be nominated for something or maybe win something for that caps it off."
Though there were few surprises among the 12 main categories, some of the biggest names in country music nevertheless weren't playing it cool when they got word of the nominations.
Kenny Chesney made no secret of wanting to repeat his 2004 win for entertainer of the year.
"Anybody that says they don't want to win is lying," said Chesney, after selling out several stadiums on his The Road and The Radio tour earlier this year.
"It is great to win entertainer of the year," he added. "It kind of encapsulates everything that goes on in the business."
The reigning vocal group of the year, Rascal Flatts, earned its first nomination in the Entertainer of the Year category thanks, in large part, to their Me and My Gang tour, which recently sold out Los Angeles' Staples Center and will stop at New York City's Madison Square Garden in October.
"This is our first recognition from the CMA in the entertainer category and it is such an honor," band member Jay DeMarcus said. "We have worked so hard the last few years to deliver great albums and to give back to our fans with our live shows."
The Strait Story: 52 Hits in 26 Years
Carrie Underwood is the most notable newcomer on the nominations list, up for four trophies including female vocalist of the year and song of the year for her debut single "Jesus Take the Wheel."
Upon learning of her nominations Wednesday morning, Underwood said, "This is my first time to be nominated for the CMA awards, so to be recognized for four is a big surprise and an amazing honor. I'm extremely excited."
Special honors this year go to 54-year-old George Strait, who charted his first single, "Unwound," in 1980, and has gone on to score 52 No. 1 hits to date. Earlier this year, Strait was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and the CMA recognition comes with special significance.
"I get asked sometimes what is the highlight of my career, 'cause I've been doing it so long," he said. "I always have a hard time coming up with something, 'cause so many good things have happened. But I think this is, without a doubt, the most special thing that's ever happened."
Over the course of his career, Strait has earned 65 CMA nominations, and has taken home 16 trophies, including three for album of the year.