News & Media

Shootout win means little to Busch in 500

February 25, 2012, Joe Menzer,

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- With cooler temperatures and a longer race, exhibition races don't help Sunday

It's always nice to open the Sprint Cup season with a victory in the Bud Shootout, the non-points event that kicks off every new NASCAR year.

But what does it mean in terms of the bigger picture? What can a driver and team carry over from that event to the more meaningful Daytona 500, the first points event on the schedule and the most prestigious race of the entire season?

"If I knew what was coming I would certainly plan for it and try to figure out how to make sure that I was the one that made it to the start/finish line first."


Not much, according to Kyle Busch.

And that's too bad for Busch, because he won the Bud Shootout in dramatic fashion last Saturday, saving his car twice after getting turned from behind and executing a sweet, last-lap pass on Tony Stewart to pull it off at Daytona International Speedway.

"Things went real well [last] Saturday night," Busch said. "We had a lot of fun, made some exciting moves. ... But you can't really transfer much over [to the 500]."

For one thing, the Bud Shootout was run at night. The green flag for Sunday's Daytona 500 is scheduled to drop at 1:29 p.m. In addition, the Gatorade duel 150-mile qualifying races that were run during the day Thursday were completed in steamy temperatures that are absent from the weather forecast for Sunday.

Obviously the length of the race, being so much longer than either the Shootout or the Duel races, is another factor that renders much of what may have been learned useless come Sunday's 500-miler. Busch was in agreement with several other drivers that the cooling systems in the cars are likely to be a factor because of the distance of the race, even with the expected cooler ambient temperatures.

"The cooling certainly is a factor," Busch said. "It seemed like [during Thursday's qualifying races] the bottom lane would be a little more powerful than the top lane would be. Just because [in] the top lane, you need to be able to push a little bit down the straightaways or get to the guy in front of you a little bit easier without overheating to make the outside lane move.

"It just seemed so difficult to make the outside lane sustainable with the amount of temperature we were running [Thursday]. Our car, we just didn't quite have what we needed with the handling. We were just missing something in the front end. We're working on a bunch of different things to see if we can't zone in on what it was."

In other words, Thursday proved to be a lesson that whatever worked for Busch in the Shootout was so fleeting he couldn't discover the same magic on the 2.5-mile track just five days later. He finished seventh in his duel event.

"We had a little bit of an issue with the car. It didn't seem to handle quite as I was expecting it to," Busch said.

Busch said the key to Sunday's race will be surviving the first 195 laps of the 200-lap ordeal. And even if you do everything right for the first 195 or all 200, there is no guarantee you won't get caught up in someone else's big mess.

The uncertainty is part of the race's grand appeal and keeps drivers -- as well as fans -- on the edges of their seats pretty much for its duration.

"It's so unpredictable that you don't know what's going to happen," Busch said. "If I knew what was coming I would certainly plan for it and try to figure out how to make sure that I was the one that made it to the start/finish line first. The thing is you just have to be patient. You have to be patient in the last five laps. You just have to let the race come to you. If you're going to be the one that's granted the satisfaction of winning the race, it's going to come to you.

"Sometimes it's your race or your year or whatever and other times it's not. I think that's the biggest thing that some people struggle with, getting too antsy or getting caught up in accidents. Certainly we see some of that stuff happen 30 laps out, 25 laps out, whatever it might be from the end of the race. The reason it happens that far out

is that people are trying to position themselves up front and get themselves the track position in case a caution comes out or whatever. ...Anything can happen."

That's why Busch is so certain virtually nothing he learned during his Shootout win will apply to this Daytona 500.

"It can be any circumstance coming down to the end of the 500," he added. "That's what's going to be so exciting about it -- because you're not going to know how the race is going to be won. It can be won by single file action; it can be won by a sling shot move like the Budweiser Shootout; it can be won like a Truck race -- three-wide with guys side-drafting off each other coming to the line. You just never know. That's what makes this sport so intriguing and so exciting to all of us. There's no way to predict it."

Busch usually receives the most boos from fans during pre-race driver introductions. But many of the boos appeared to be replaced by cheers in the aftermath of his Shootout win. He chuckled after being asked if he noticed and what he thought the fan reaction might be if he wins his first Daytona 500, and admitted he doesn't ever expect to convert all the Kyle Busch detractors.

"You hear it," he said. "It's a lot easier to hear it when you don't have your helmet on. I keep my helmet on when I get out of the car in case of unidentified flying objects. I've learned from my past experiences."