Paul Menard's hopes of converting the pole position he drew in Thursday's lottery into victory in the Budweiser Shootout were dented - along with his #98 Quaker State Ford - in the closing stages of the non-points race, as several contenders were eliminated ahead of a green-white-chequered finish.

Polesitter Menard got loose in turn four on lap 64, igniting a four-car wreck that eliminated last year's Shootout winner Dale Earnhardt Jr, while the Fords of both Bobby Labonte and Greg Biffle were damaged in the incident

"Me and Kyle [Busch] were drafting on the inside and he gave me a real good run back in to the lead, but I just lost the right rear cause I just couldn't hold my car on the bottom, got up in to Jeff [Gordon] a little bit and kinda got shuffled through the middle to the back," Earnhardt said of the build-up to the accident, "I was just trying to regroup back there and figure out what to do. I knew there was going to be a wreck, but I was figuring on getting through the pack before it started happening and we didn't."

"The #98 was loose and I think somebody checked up in front of him as he was turning," Labonte offered, "I think I just barely touched him as he was going around and he must have hit the #88 because the #88 came back and hit me. That's what it looked like to me."

With just the top few places being rewarded in the non-points event, there was a lot of action in the midfield, and Biffle was again a victim when he was turned around by David Stremme a few laps later.

"It pays to win that thing, and that's what happens when you're running hard like that," he admitted, "I have to watch the replay. I don't know if I came down on him or he kind of drifted up, but that we were back there by ourselves is what's kind of odd.

"It's a little give-and-take when you're in your own lane, but down there, with Jeff Gordon going into that corner, somebody shoved him four-wide and I tried to get up and leave Kasey [Kahne] room, leave Jeff room and leave all those guys room. I just don't know what happened."

Another pre-race favourite, Kyle Busch, was also caught out, the #18 M&M's Toyota dropping to tenth despite running near the front virtually the entire night, after being run into from behind while the accident developed just in front of him on the final lap of the 78-lap race.

"I was on the bottom going into [turn] three and they started wrecking in front of me," he said, "I turned low to try to get away from it and got hit in the back by the #9. I halfway spun out, but saved it and didn't hit anything, so we didn't tear the M&M's Toyota up too bad."

Early in the event, Busch and crew chief Steve Addington knew they had a race car that could contend for the win but, along with several other drivers, Busch had to battle an ill-handling car similar to those blamed for contributing to a record eight cautions.

"It was probably one of the best driving cars out there and it still handled terrible," Busch said, "The biggest thing is they are just bouncing all over the place and nobody can hold their own lane. A guy on the bottom either slides up because he's tight or because he's loose - it's just so difficult to race out there."

Gordon was a little more scathing of some of his rivals, who he felt did not respond correctly to the conditions, and admitted that he hoped next weekend's blue riband Daytona 500 would see less action.

"I couldn't even tell you what was going on that last lap," he confessed, "I was holding it wide open, looking for every bit of momentum and gaps and holes that I could, and anyone to push me or go with. We were four-wide coming off of turn two, [but] there wasn't enough room to be four wide.

"I was pushing Casey Mears and we got a heck of a run down the back straightaway and starting catching the field ahead of us. Man, they just all spread out. There were a couple of guys who thought they were on go-karts out there instead of stock cars, and I think that was just really stacking things up and causing some problems.

It was a heck of a race, just great racing out there, but it just got a little bit too wild. There were a couple of guys out there doing some things I thought were unnecessary and, unfortunately, the cars were dancing around a lot, and I thought that had a lot to do with the wrecks.

"I hope the 500's not like this. If there are cautions late in the race, absolutely, as everybody comes here to win. But, in a 500-mile race, we have to use our heads more than that. Just because it is a shorter race, it is not for points or the Daytona 500. I think guys are laying it out there on the line quite a bit more."

Eventual winner Kevin Harvick was not among those panned by Gordon, who reserved words of praise for the Richard Childress Racing driver.

"I've got to say it was a very impressive run by Kevin," the four-time champion noted, "He was riding around there in the back and, on one of those restarts, me and him were back there. Man, he went and we went, I pushed him once, he pushed me and then I passed him and he passed me. It was pretty cool to see him come from back there and win that thing."



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