If Kyle Busch was hoping for a nice, quiet and calm start to his 2012 season after all the controversy, frustration and disappointment that consumed him at the end of last year, then Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout curtain raiser was perhaps not what the doctor ordered. But if he wanted a stunning win against all the odds that will inevitably boost his confidence into high orbit, then he couldn't have asked for anything better.
Busch had picked second place on the grid in the blind draw setting the starting order for the non-championship race, but an accident in practice on Friday sent him to the back-up car which obliged him to start from the back along with with brother Kurt and Penske duo Brad Keselowski and AJ Allmendinger. But with only 25 cars running in this exhibition event getting back to the front was by no means an insurmountable problem for any of the quartet.
Polesitter Martin Truex Jr. was struggling to hold off Jamie McMurray and Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the lead before Kevin Harvick took over on lap 6. Behind them, pack racing was re-emerging as the dominant race style du jour
after least year's obsession with the controversial two-car tandem drafting style seen last season; but this meant that the field was vulnerable to a big wreck being started by a small incident at the head of the line.
And that's exactly what happened on lap 9: contact from David Ragan spun the #27 of Paul Menard which then sucked in the cars of Kasey Kahne, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Juan Montoya, Michael Waltrip, Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon. Menard, Ragan and Waltrip were done for the day while Hamlin and Kahne fell off the lead lap as they recovered from the fall-out; Jeff Burton would also end up dropping a lap with a subsequent cut tyre.
"I just got into the back of Menard," admitted Ragan. "You're pushing a little bit, and I guess he was pushing whoever was in front of him, and when you've got the meat in between the sandwich, you usually get wrecked."
It left Menard pining for the good old days of two car-drafting: "The tandem drafting seemed to be a lot easier to pass" and "a lot less chaotic", he said. "This is pretty damn chaotic, but we'll fix it."
Gordon's car was slightly damaged but it didn't stop him finishing the first 25-lap segment of the Shootout in second place behind Jamie McMurray. During the shceduled ten minute hiatus before segment 2, cars were able to get new tyres, refuel and get routine chassis adjustments.
Behind McMurray and Gordon for the restart were Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle, Joey Logano, Kyle and Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer. Biffle had taken over the lead by lap 31 when the next caution came out, for a spat between Michael Waltrip Racing team mates Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. which saw Bowyer get spun out.
As usual with pack racing, the lead ebbed and flowed over the next few laps: Biffle led at the restart, then Montoya popped up for a lap in front, then McMurray held the lead for a spell before Truex, Johnson, Harvick and Jeff Gordon all came on strong.