The new surface at Daytona International Speedway might have changed the style of racing slightly, but tonight’s Budweiser Shootout certainly proved that heart stopping excitement will remain the primary attribute of the famed racetrack.
On a night that saw a record number of lead changes and lap speeds well over 200 mph much of the night, all three Joe Gibbs Racing entries proved strong and worth of victory, but with the strategy favoring two-car drafts it came down to picking the right moment to make a run to the front of the field and of course, having enough good fortune to avoid the wrecks. Denny Hamlin appeared to have it done it all correctly to earn the victory, but unfortunately a drive below the double yellow lines to the checkered flag was ruled illegal by NASCAR and took the victory away from Hamlin. Meanwhile his two teammates were unable the wrecks, with Joey Logano falling victim to an accident on lap 27 and teammate Kyle Busch getting taken out on lap 36.
The Budweiser Shootout is a non-points event that has become a pre-season tradition in NASCAR since 1979. The 75-lap event is run in two segments this year. First a 25-lap run that is followed by a 10-minute trip to pit road for teams to make adjustments to the cars. Once restarted it is a 50-lap run to the finish that has become famous for exciting racing and tonight was no exception.
Hamlin proved to have the best luck of the three Joe Gibbs Racing drivers when it came to selecting his starting position for tonight’s Shootout as he pulled the fourth spot for No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota. That allowed Hamlin to team up with Tony Stewart in a two-car draft that spent much of the first 25-lap segment at the front of the field. With car shuffling in and out of the lead thanks to two-car draft runs, Hamlin would end the first segment back in the 14th position. Hamlin would deftly avoid the accidents that captured both Logano and Busch and would wait until about 20 to go to make his move to the front in a two-car draft with Ryan Newman. Hamlin would keep Newman in the lead for several laps as the race neared its conclusion. As they came around turn four for the final time Hamlin pulled down below Newman and passed him on the inside for what appeared to a photo finish victory just edging out Kurt Busch who had closed on the leaders from the outside. Unfortunately NASCAR ruled that Hamlin had driven below the track’s double yellow lines in an effort to win the race without wrecking Newman. The ruling penalized Hamlin back to the rear of the lead lap cars and a 12th-place finish, while handing the victory to Kurt Busch.
Kyle Busch started the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota in 21st position but found his way to the front of the field midway through the opening segment of racing. Busch would take the lead on lap 18 after pairing up with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on a run to the front, but as the cars swapped position quickly he would find himself in the eighth position following the first 25-lap segment. Ten laps into the second segment Busch would get bumped from behind by Mark Martin and the two would spin across the track into the grass making contact with each other. The No. 18 M&Ms crew worked to make repairs, but ultimately Busch would be forced to take his Camry back to the garage and end his night early in 16th place.
Meanwhile Joey Logano started the night in the 22nd position in the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota, but quickly proved to have a car capable of running to the front of the field. Logano would partner with five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson during the first 25-lap segment and the two flirted with the lead but ended the opening portion of the race in the fifth spot. Unfortunately Logano would not receive the opportunity to go for the win in the end as his night ended early when he was an innocent victim
in a wreck started just in front of him on lap 27 by Carl Edwards and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. He would end the night in 18th place.
Kurt Busch of Penske Racing captured the victory.
The starting front row for the Daytona 500 will be decided Sunday during a qualifying session at 1 PM. The rest of the line up for the Daytona 500 will be decided by a pair of Duel races on Thursday afternoon. Tomorrow’s qualifying session will be broadcast live on Fox at 1 PM, while the Duel races can be seen starting at 2 PM on Thursday.
The Great American Race will once again provide the official start to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season when Fox broadcast the Daytona 500 live from Daytona International Speedway next Sunday, February 20 at 1 PM. The race will also be carried on Sirius NASCAR radio channel 128.