It was one of those motor-racing events in which it appeared that the winner was going to be last car left running on the track. All night long in the Budweiser Shootout Saturday at the Daytona International Speedway, the cars in the invitation-only field bumped and battered one another, leading to several episodes of spinouts and multiple car wreckage to the point that only 13 of the original 25 cars in the field were running at the end of the race.
At the end of the evening, it was Kyle Busch in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota who was left standing to take the checkered flag, but not without a sprint to the finish with defending Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart. In one of the few tandem-drafting sequences in the entire 75-lap race, Busch pushed Stewart out to a three or four car-length lead and then surprised Stewart and everyone else viewing the race by popping out and around the No. 14 car on the outside and out-powering Stewart to the finish line.
The winning margin was .013 seconds, the closest finish in the 34 year history of the Shootout, a non-points exhibition that unofficially opens the new NASCAR Sprint Cup season. Kansas City-area drivers Carl Edwards and Clint Bowyer were among the 13 drivers whose cars were still on the track at the end, finishing back-to-back, in eighth and ninth place, respectively, as they did so many times last season.
It is interesting to note that the younger Busch brother won the Shootout in his backup car. Busch started Saturday night's race in the back of the grid after wrecking his car in Friday's practice run. The 26-year-old driver from Las Vegas overcame his start far back in the pack and two track mishaps that put the No, 18 car in harm's way to record the first win for Toyota in the Shootout. It also was the first in a NASCAR race using electronic fuel injection, which is one of the new additions to Sprint Cup racing this season.
The Bud Shootout is only for fun, although you wouldn't know it looking at how fierce and fast the racing was among the 25 competitors in the 34th rendition of this popular exhibition. Because the event is held on the same track as Sprint Cup's official season-opener, the Daytona 500, coming up this Sunday, there are many valuable lessons that can be taken from the Shootout, worked on over the week and applied in NASCAR's biggest race next Sunday. Not to mention a bevy of backup cars that will have to be brought out of storage and activated for the Daytona 500 due to all the car wreckage suffered in Saturday's Shootout.
Just eight laps into the race, a multi-car wreck occurred involving the cars of David Ragan, Paul Menard, Kasey Kahne, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Juan Montoya, Michael Waltrip, Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon. Dale Earnhardt Jr., polesitter Martin Truex, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, and Kenseth were involved in another multicar mishap on lap 54 of the scheduled 75-lap exhibition that ended the evening for those drivers.
Perhaps the scariest of the wrecks, however, came on what was to be the next to the last lap of the Shootout when Gordon lost control coming off the left back bumper of Kyle Bush and slid up the track on the side of the No. 24 car, taking out the cars of teammate Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray in the process, before tumbling side over side for several revolutions and landing on the top of the car. Gordon somehow managed to escape the carnage without injury.
That set up a green-white-checkered finish and Kyle Busch's late dart and dash to victory.
One of NASCAR's big rule changes for this year is the curtailment of so-called pairs or tandem two-car drafting that had become so popular at the restrictor-plate tracks, namely Daytona and Talladega, the last couple of year. NASCAR fans spoke out strongly against this type of racing because it took out a lot of the competitive racing, particularly the thrill of three-wide, five-deep pack-style racing.
The drivers like the rule change altering the character and style of racing at Daytona. "Everything is fine," said Harvick, whose race ended in the lap 54 pack pileup. "it's just that we don't have a lot of experience in pack racing and things are happening pretty fast."
"Pack racing is back, and that gives the driver a little more control and adds a lot of excitement for the fans, and that's the biggest thing," said new Michael Waltrip Racing driver and Emporia, Kan.-native Clint Bowyer. "The fans wanted pack racing back, and NASCAR delivered."
One race team however, doesn't feel the new rule changes this year went far enough. "As long as they let 'em push in the corners, they're gonna wreck, " said owner Richard Childress, who watched two of his drivers, Harvick and Menard total their backup cars in two of the "Big Ones" in Saturday's Bud Shootout.
Pack racing may be more fun and exciting for the fans, but it is pretty obvious that the Cup drivers need to go to school this week on what they learned from all the colliding and crashing that occurred in the Shootout if they want to put themselves in position to win and do well when the racing and the Sprint Cup starts for real right back at Daytona.
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