NASCAR » 13 February 2011
Busch wins Shootout after low move by Hamlin
Johnson and Biffle had taken over the lead when the fourth caution came out for a solo accident by Michael Waltrip, who got loose and found the wall on lap 48. It was only a brief yellow before racing resumed on lap 50, 25 to go, with just 14 cars remaining on track out of the initial 24-strong field.
The lead continued to change around as drafting pairs came together, tried out, then went their separate ways. Burton lost the support of Harvick who slumped back to eighth place, but was joined instead by Clint Bowyer as he, Johnson (still with Biffle) and Kurt Busch (with amie McMurray) alternated in the lead. Denny Hamlin was also running fast and up at the front but was in need of a drafting partner, which finally materialised in the form of Ryan Newman as the race entered its final dozen laps.
Newman hit the lead with Hamlin's help, and proved remarkably resilient in that top spot and would not be shifted for ten of the last 12 laps. The race finally saw a four-car breakaway at the front, with Newman and Hamlin leading Busch and McMurray and the foursome as a whole more than 2s ahead of the rest, and it all came down to the final two laps and who had the best on-track strategy to pass his partner and the rival pairing and get to that chequered flag first.
Busch and McMurrary continued to act together, McMurray pushing Kurt all the way to the finish, but Hamlin decided to go solo and broke away from Newman, cutting underneath him on a low line through the final turn and claiming the chequered flag by inches from the others. But it proved to be a Pyrrhic victory, because cutting so low and dipping under the yellow line is a strict no-no at Daytona, and Hamli was inevitably penalised for the infraction which put him to the back of the lead lap - all the way down to 12th, handing Kurt Busch the win.
Hamlin said afterwards that he took the move deliberately on safety grounds. "That yellow line is there to protect us and the fans in the stands, and I just chose to take the safer route,.
"A win in the Shootout is not worth sending the #39 [Newman] through the grandstands," he said, adding that he was sure that if "I got into his left rear, that car will go airborne."
Overall, the Budweiser Shootout offers valuable data to the drivers and teams on how to tackle the newly-repaved Daytona International Speedway aead of the start of the Sprint Cup season here next weekend, with two-car drafting proved to be very much the new order of the day rather than the old style of multi-car packs running in big groups, only for cars to drop back dramatically once the drafting pair separate to allow the pushing vehicle to get some air into its radiator.
"What an unbelievable experience, this two-car draft," said the victorious Kurt Busch. "I had no idea what to expect going in. I was just going to take it one lap at a time and see how it played out."
"It's completely different plate racing than we've ever had," agreed his drafting 'team mate' for the night, Jamie McMurray. "I hope it was exciting for the fans to watch. But from the driver's seat, it was actually really exciting to push two-by-two and do the side draft."
The Shootout was as much about auditioning dance partners for next week's race as it was about the day's racing and prize money in its own right. Kurt Busch and McMurray, and Harvick and Burton were both effective double acts, and remarkably so were the odd couple of Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch, although Dale was later heard saying that the #18 "jacks my car around like he has Velcro on that thing."
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