News & Media


Flashback to the future: A return to Daytona's roots

February 19, 2012, Dave Rodman, NASCAR.com

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Shootout offers reminder of what was and what shall be going forward at Daytona

The present looked an awful lot like the past at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday night.

Pack racing won the war in the Budweiser Shootout, but tandem drafting captured the checkered flag for Kyle Busch. Before those fast and furious final two laps, however, was a return to the racing Daytona was known for since the advent of the restrictor plate.

"This is pretty much how the racing used to be, except we're going a lot faster. There's a lot of grip here with that big [restrictor] plate, but that's pretty much how the racing was before the evolution of the two-car tandem."

--MATT KENSETH

Even though there was precious little sign of two-car tandems through the race's first 78 laps, both Busch and the man he pushed for a little more than the final lap, defending Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart, said that was what they expected.

"I mean, with a green white checkered, it's going to come down to a tandem," said Busch, who said -- and it was hard to tell just how far into his cheek his tongue was -- that his car's engine temperature reached 300 degrees on its run to the checkers. "Same thing for the [Daytona] 500, if we have a green white checkered, it's going to be a tandem finish."

Stewart said his biggest disappointment was not anticipating Busch's winning move, which came from the middle of the short chute coming off Turn 4 to the finish line. For his part, Busch said Stewart had no chance to stop it once Busch pushed their tandem three or four car lengths ahead and then popped out from behind Stewart and swept past him to the outside.

"I think it's realistic that that's what you'll have at the 500 -- that it will come down to that," Stewart said. "The good news is we're not going to have to do it for the entire day, all 500 miles. You're not going to have to worry about, 'Man, if I don't have a partner, you're going to be in big trouble.' I would say it's a pretty safe bet.

"No guarantee it's going to have to come down to that. Especially if it's a lot warmer conditions, I think it will be harder to do that. But I think that's a good possibility that that's the way it will come down to it."

But despite the thrilling finish, the closest in Shootout history, the biggest deal might have been the race car casualty count. Only 13 of the original 25-car starting field were running at the green-white-checker finish. Far fewer were undamaged. Five cautions that involved 24 cars -- obviously some more than once -- sprinkled the relatively short, 75-lap non-points special event.

Race fans, who were treated to everything from three-wide, five-deep mass-pack drafts at the start of the race to long, single-file lines just past halfway to a final, race-winning full lap of tandem drafting by Busch and Stewart, also saw wrecks resulting from all three formats.

The biggest question for next Sunday's Daytona 500 might be, is a 43-car starting field going to hold enough race cars to survive the carnage?

"As long as they'll let 'em push in the corners they're gonna wreck," a disgusted Richard Childress said after watching two of his drivers, Kevin Harvick and Paul Menard, wipe out their Daytona 500 backup cars in grinding, multi-car accidents.

"Everything's fine, it's just that guys don't have a lot of experience in pack racing and things are happening pretty fast," said Harvick, who led three times for four laps. "Those guys... You'll see the same guys cause the wrecks. You've just got to give yourself some room and you've got to use the gas pedal and the brake pedal and you've got to let off."

Busch, who was "spun out" twice but never went all the way around, agreed that the outcomes rested in the drivers' hands.

"It's all up to us," Busch said. "I don't know what caused all of [the wrecks]. I know what caused both of mine. I wasn't clear of Jimmie [Johnson]; I was trying to get back down the race track and clipped him a little bit [in Turns 1 and 2].

Wreckfest


The return of pack racing also brought back the Big One -- and there were a few of them in the Budweiser Shootout. Take a look at all the crashes from Saturday night.

"[Turns] 3 and 4 with Jeff Gordon behind me, I got him pushing on me through [Turns] 1 and 2, making me really loose. I'm glad the straightaway came when it did because otherwise I was going to spin out. He got back on me a few more times on the straightaway, moving me around, I think trying to move me out of the way. Getting into 3, hit me on the left rear corner, spun me out. I don't know what the deal was there.

"It caused a heck of a melee behind us, and also for himself. It's a product of what us drivers need to be better at. We've got to fix that."

It started after only eight laps, when Greg Biffle was close behind David Ragan, who spun out Menard. Nine cars were swept up there.

Several potential race winners were wiped out in wrecks. Gordon and Matt Kenseth were eliminated in their second crashes of the evening and both had potential race winners when they went out.

Crazily enough, Marcos Ambrose was also part of two of the wrecks. Busch -- even though he was only listed as being in one caution -- made two three-part saves when he was knocked down onto the apron and had to "catch" his car multiple times in a flurry of steering and throttle applications.

Given his victory, worth $198,550, Busch loved everything about his evening.

"It was fun to drive when I wasn't getting turned around," Busch said. "Tough race, but a fun race [and] glad to see the pack back like that and making it interesting for us drivers. Hopefully, it was great for the fans as much as it was for us drivers."

A former Daytona 500 winner, who was wrecked, twice actually, offered a more somber tone.

"I think this is pretty much exactly like it was before the two-car tandem -- kind of like what pack racing is, except we're going quite a bit faster," Kenseth said. "The car has quite a bit of grip and we're going really fast, the closing rate is really fast, so it's about what I expected.

"If the goal was to get rid of the two-car tandem, it seemed to do that pretty good. This is pretty much how the racing used to be, except we're going a lot faster. There's a lot of grip here with that big [restrictor] plate, but that's pretty much how the racing was before the evolution of the two-car tandem."