2012-02-23 / Sports

“Rowdy” Busch Wins Shootout Within A Shootout

By Gerald Hodges

Kyle Busch celebrates on the track after his Shootout win. Kyle Busch celebrates on the track after his Shootout win. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Sparks flew as Kyle Busch rescued his car from certain doom, not once, but twice, and went on to make a dramatic last lap pass over Tony Stewart to win the 2012 Budweiser Shootout.

Busch’s margin of victory was only thirteen- thousandths of a second, the closest in speedway history.

“It’s great that we were able to win our first race back in the M&M’s car and get back in Victory Lane,” Busch said. “It means a lot to myself and this team, Joe Gibbs Racing. I can’t say enough about all the support that helped us get to Victory Lane.”

It was incredible that Busch was even in position to win, as he made two great displays of driving skill to avoid crashing twice earlier in the race. While Busch was in second place on Lap 47, five-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson bumped the rear of Busch’s No. 18 Toyota in Turn 2 and caused him to nearly spin out of control. But Busch gained control of his car and continued while the race remained under green.

But his most impressive save came on Lap 74 when he was again in second place and was tapped from behind in Turn 4 by four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon. Busch’s car turned hard to the left, and slid off the banking and onto the apron in a shower of sparks. The car straightened, and then headed left again while spraying sparks as Busch tried to regain control. After a third trip violently to the left and a third shower of sparks, Busch finally tamed the car and was able to stay in the race.

As the cars entered the last lap, Tony Stewart was the leader, with Busch in second.

“I knew that I was going to have to do something between Turn 4 and the startfinish line,” said Stewart, the Shootout winner in 2001, ‘02 and ‘07. “When we got there, it was like, ‘Well, we’re going to run first or second here.’ So I knew we had enough of a gap that it was going to be a race between the two of us. It was a matter of when he was going to make his move off of (Turn) 4. I saw it coming. I thought I gave myself enough room to get away from him, but I didn’t. Guess I’ll have to work harder on it this week and see if we got something for them on Sunday.”

Marcos Ambrose recovered from two wrecks to finish third, followed by Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards, and Juan Montoya.

The remaining finishers were Jeff Burton, AJ Allmendinger, Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Jamie McMurray, Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Martin Truex, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Paul Menard, David Ragan, and Michael Waltrip.

Edwards earns Daytona 500 pole

Carl Edwards led a strong showing by Ford teams with his lap of 194.738 mph, which was good enough to earn him the pole in Sunday’s Daytona 500.

Teammate Greg Biffle (194.087) will start on the outside of the front row, giving Roush Fenway a sweep of the top two positions.

The top two spots are the only ones locked in for the 500 – the remainder of the 43- car field will be determined by Thursday’s Gatorade Duels, a pair of 150-mile qualifying races.

Expect a wild Daytona 500

The two-car tandem that NASCAR worked so hard to perfect in the past at Daytona and Talladega might be gone. It’s been replaced by the old-fashion pack racing.

At least that was the case this past Saturday night during the Budweiser Shootout, and I think we can expect to see the same thing during Sunday’s Daytona 500.

Everything that people love and hate about pack drafting was evident Saturday night. There were of course two-car tandems, but there were saves like Kyle Busch’s double-correction, down- on-the-apron, type maneuver, along with drivers who were able to go from the back to the front. And then there were the wrecks.

The two- car tandem drafting that’s cropped up on restrictor-plate tracks served to string out the field, and make the big ones just a little smaller and little less catastrophic. But with NASCAR’s new rules, everything is magnified. There was a nine-car pileup early in the Shootout, a six-car wreck later and an eight-car pileup near the end, which took out a number of top contenders including Jeff Gordon, who barrel rolled down the track.

Despite the craziness of it, most drivers said they prefer the new style racing.

“It was pretty wild and crazy,” Gordon said, “But I mean, I like this better than what we had last year, definitely.”

Most drivers agreed with Gordon despite all the accidents.

“You can choose your own fate in this kind of racing," said Denny Hamlin, who finished fifth. “You don't have to rely on someone else for you to have a good day. You can race your own race. If you choose to run in the back, or choose to run in the front, or mix it up all day, you choose your own fate. You don't have to continue to worry about someone else, and I think everyone else will agree that they like it like that.”

Tony Stewart, who finished second, said: “It was definitely a lot more fun, and you felt a lot more eager to be engaged in the race this way than in the two car deal. I actually had fun racing at Daytona again, which I haven’t had for a while. I don’t know what the consensus is from everybody else, but I had more fun as a driver than what we’ve had in the past.”

For good or bad, pack racing has returned to Daytona and Talladega. If the Shootout is any indication of what fans can expect in this week’s Daytona 500, it should be an exciting race to watch.

Weekend racing: Daytona is the center of racing this week. All three of NASCAR’s major series’ will be competing on the 2.50-mile track.

Thurs., Feb. 23, Gatorade Duels (two non-points races to finalize the starting lineup for the Daytona 500); starting time: 1 p.m. ET; TV: SPEED.

Fri., Feb. 24, Camping World Trucks Nextera Ener- gy Resources 250, race 1 of 22; starting time: 7 p.m. ET; TV: SPEED.

Sat., Feb. 25, Nationwide Drive4COPD 300, race 1 of 33; starting time: Noon ET; TV: ESPN.

Sun., Feb. 26, 54th Annual Daytona 500, race 1 of 36; starting time; Noon ET; TV: FOX.

Racing trivia question: What year did Dale Earnhardt Sr. win his first Daytona 500?

Last week’s question: Austin Dillon won the 2011 Truck Series championship. Which series will he be running in 2012? Answer. He will be running for the Nationwide Series title, plus a few Cup races.

Contact the Racing Reporter at hodges@race500.com.

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