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Pack racing set to rule at Daytona

NASCAR officials have been changing the Cup rules and regulations over the close season to ensure the return of pack racing to the Daytona 500. Have they succeeded?
After all the hard work over the close-season revising the rules and testing the results, NASCAR officials think they've finally managed to engineer a return to the old style pack racing at Daytona, after 2011 saw controversial two-car tandem drafting become all the rage. Saturday's Budweiser Shootout certainly seemed to confirm that pack racing was back in style for 2012.

“What we're happy about is we ended up with a race exactly like we predicted it to be," said NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Director John Darby after the race. "There were all different types of old-school drafting with a nice blend of the push when the guys needed it. It obviously put on one heck of a race. I don't think anybody can be disappointed with that."

Among the changes introduced over the winter were changes to the size and positioning of the air intake grilles at the front of the car that allow the engine to be cooled, and changes to the setting of the pressure release valve at high engine water temperatures.

“The chance to overheat was really easy even when you weren't pushing people,” said Hendrick Motorsports' Dale Earnhardt Jr. “I was just lined up behind people in a tight draft not pushing and saw guys in front of me pushing water out. I was getting hot!”

"It's now just about not overheating," agreed his team mate, Jeff Gordon. "At the beginning of the race, I was really concerned because we were overheating and I wasn't even pushing anybody. So as we got a little bit closer to the front and started being a little smarter with it, it was working out fine."

"If you pushed and if you stayed hooked up, yeah - you got hot, that's what happened," agreed Darby.

Temperatures were in the 60s for the evening Shootout, and Darby agreed that hotter temperatures for the daytime Daytona 500 might mean some further tweaks to the settings will be needed.

"It's just a matter of watching the weather for the rest of the weekend,” Darby conceeded. “We're fully prepared to adjust pressures as the ambient temperature changes, and we'll probably do so."

But two-car tandem drafting is not entirely gone from the race, as the end of the Shootout saw Kyle Busch push Tony Stewart clear out on front at the final restart, which allowed Busch to then slingshot around the Cup champion to win the race.

And a few drivers are wondering if they should have been careful about what they wished for: having complained about tandem running last year, they're suddenly finding that pack racing isn't quite as wonderful as they remembered. There were three major accidents on Saturday night, triggered by minor incidents which then rippled out into multi-car wrecks because of how closely everyone was running in the packs.




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Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate All Battery Center Toyota and Ryan Newman, driver of the #39 Bass Pro Shops/NRA Chevrolet, lead a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke ZERO 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 2, 2011 in Daytona Beach, Florida. [Picture Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR]
Pack racing returns in the 2012 Budwesier Shootout. [Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR]
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet SS finished 2nd, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS finished 7th Saturday, April 12, 2014 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Darlington Raceway in Darlington South Carolina. Earnhardt Jr. is 4th, Gordon is 1st in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. Teammate Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS won. (Photo Credit: HHP/Alan Marler for Chevrolet)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS finished 1st, Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Great Clips Chevrolet SS finished 37th Saturday, April 12, 2014 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Darlington Raceway in Darlington South Carolina. Harvick  is 22nd, Kahne is 23rd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. Teammates Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet SS finished 2nd and Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS finished 3rd.(Photo Credit: HHP/Christa L. Thomas for Chevrolet)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS celebrates his win Saturday, April 12, 2014 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Darlington Raceway in Darlington South Carolina. Harvick is 22nd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. Teammates Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet SS finished 2nd and Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS finished 3rd. (Photo Credit: HHP/Tami Kelly-Pope for Chevrolet)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS celebrates his win Saturday, April 12, 2014 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Darlington Raceway in Darlington South Carolina. Harvick is 22nd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. Teammates Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet SS finished 2nd and Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS finished 3rd. (Photo Credit: HHP/Christa L. Thomas for Chevrolet)
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Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles` Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on April 12, 2014 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo Credit: NASCAR Via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles` Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on April 12, 2014 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo Credit: NASCAR Via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles` Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on April 12, 2014 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo Credit: NASCAR Via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles` Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on April 12, 2014 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo Credit: NASCAR Via Getty Images)
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Aric Almirola, driver of the #43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the #17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford tangle during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles` Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on April 12, 2014 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo Credit: NASCAR Via Getty Images)
Cars race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles` Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on April 12, 2014 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo Credit: NASCAR Via Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, and Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, lead the field to start the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles` Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on April 12, 2014 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo Credit: NASCAR Via Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200 at Darlington Raceway on April 11, 2014 in Darlington, South Carolina.  (Photo Credit: NASCAR Via Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200 at Darlington Raceway on April 11, 2014 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo Credit: NASCAR Via Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200 at Darlington Raceway on April 11, 2014 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo Credit: NASCAR Via Getty Images)

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