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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]
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, races to win Sunday, August 17, 2014 in the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy Johns Chevrolet SS finished second. This was Gordon`s third win of the season. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, celebrates with a burnout after winning the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race Sunday, August 17, 2014 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. This was Gordon`s third win of the season. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
With General Motors CEO Mary Barra, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, holds the Michigan Heritage Trophy after winning the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race Sunday, August 17, 2014 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. This was Gordon`s third win of the season. In 2013, MIS began awarding the Michigan Heritage Trophy as a recognition and celebration of the automobile and it`s importance to the race track and the manufacturers competing in NASCAR. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, celebrates with his crew after winning the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race Sunday, August 17, 2014 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. This was Gordon`s third win of the season. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 GoDaddy Chevrolet, Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row Chevrolet, Trevor Bayne, driver of the #21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford, Justin Allgaier, driver of the #51 Brandt Professional Agriculture Chevrolet, and Michael Annett, driver of the #7 Allstate Peterbilt/Pilot Chevrolet, are involved in an incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo Credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, and Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford, lead the field to start the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford, races Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
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Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy Johns Chevrolet SS, qualified sixth Friday, August 15, 2014 for Sunday`s Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. Harvick is 8th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
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Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, celebrates capturing the pole position Friday, August 15, 2014 for Sunday`s Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. The was Gordon`s second pole position this season. He set a new track record in the final round of qualifying with a lap of 206.558 mph. Gordon is second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, celebrates with the Coors Light Pole Award after qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 15, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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