NASCAR’s enfant terrible Kyle Busch scored a spectacular win in the 200-mile Budweiser Shootout last Saturday night.
The non-points sprint race kicks off NASCAR’s 38-race season and resulted in a remarkable victory for Busch who came from the back of the field and survived both an accident and a couple of huge tank slappers to beat Tony Stewart across the line by less than a nose – 0.013 of a second.
Busch is renowned as an extremely talented driver whose temper and bad manners sometimes get the best of him. Last year he was suspended for one race near the end of the season after deliberately crashing into one of his rivals in a NASCAR Truck series race, but Kyle’s uncanny skill was obvious to all at Daytona last weekend as he made two superb saves before putting himself into position to win the final sprint to the finish.
The Shootout always produces a bunch of multi-car accidents and this year’s race was no different with three big shunts eliminating half of the 25-car field. In the last of these Jeff Gordon ploughed into the wall after clouting Busch repeatedly in the tail. Gordon was collected by team-mate Jimmie Johnson and Jeff’s car then rolled over three times before coming to a rest on its roof. To everyone’s relief, he scrambled out of the wreckage without any injuries.
NASCAR has fiddled with the rules to discourage the two-by-two drafting seen at Daytona the past two years. Radiator openings and cooling system rules have been tightened, spoilers reduced in size and a new ‘shark fin’ added to the left side of the rear window and tail. These changes were greeted positively by most of the drivers who feel it makes for better racing and puts more into the driver’s hands.
“It was a fun race,” said winner Busch. “I thought a lot about how the pack was back. There were certainly some moments when we were all pushing each other. It was intense. Guys were pushing all the time, pushing on you five rows deep, everybody squirrely, the back end of the cars real light. It was a great race from my seat. Hopefully it was from everybody else’s.”
Busch also talked about how busy he was when he caught his pair of giant tank slappers. “Man, it was exciting from where I was a few times for sure,” Busch said. “The first time might have been luck but I’m going to say the second time was all skill! It was interesting from my seat. I was steering, stabbing, braking, gassing and everything in between trying to keep the thing straight and get it back under control.
“I was just glad that I was able to pull through it, to be honest, to be able to straighten it back out and keep going. It’s just instinct and hoping the timing is right. If you overcorrect just a little bit, you could hook back to the right and go straight up the racetrack into the wall.”
NASCAR champion Stewart complimented Busch on his pair of great saves and on beating him across the line. “I was right behind him when he had his problem in turns one and two,” Stewart said. “He had to catch it three times before he saved it. You get 3,400 pounds moving like that and to catch it once was pretty big, but to get away with it and catch it again was bigger and the third time was even bigger. That was three big moments in one corner and he never quit driving. It was an unbelievable save, just a great save.
“There’s a lot of guys that wouldn’t have caught that,” Stewart added. “He did a fantastic job with that save. I’m sitting there expecting a yellow and the green is still out. I’m like, ‘Man! That’s the coolest save I’ve seen in a long time.’ It’s pretty cool to see somebody that went through two big moments like that come out and still win the race.”
The following day Carl Edwards took pole position for next Sunday’s Daytona 500 with Roush-Fenway Ford team-mate Greg Biffle qualifying second. Thanks to this year’s slightly larger restrictor plate and smaller spoiler Edwards was able to record the fastest qualifying speed at Daytona in thirteen years – 46.216 seconds, 194.738mph. Edwards and Biffle will start from the front row next Sunday with the rest of the 43-car field determined by Thursday’s pair of 150-mile qualifying races. Busch commented on the challenges facing the drivers in the 500.
“There’s going to be some moments where you’re pushing, trying to see what your car is going to do,” Kyle remarked. “But you have to keep your water temperatures in check, the front and back bumpers on your car, and you’ve got to keep the sides on the car and be there at the end. When it comes down to the last 10 miles it’s going to be hectic. We’re probably going to be spinning each other out and hopefully being able to miss all the wrecks.”