Kurt Busch prevails in pairs racing
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Pair up and take your chances.
In more than half a century of racing on this historic track, no one had ever seen anything like the Budweiser Shootout on Saturday night.
It was a shocker from start to finish, including Kurt Busch's winning the all-star race as the second driver to cross the final line. Denny Hamlin was first, but he went below the yellow line to pass Ryan Newman. That's a no-no.
Busch was third as he came off Turn 4 on the final lap, but push-partner Jamie McMurray got Busch the victory going to the outside line at the end.
"It's great to win here no matter what kind of race it is," Busch said. "Thanks to my motor department, Jamie McMurray. This is a whole new game at Daytona."
Instead of the usual restrictor-plate pack racing, this was two-pack racing.
You've heard of pairs skating. This was pairs racing -- two-by-two-by-two was the way to zoom to the front -- and it happened faster than in any race in the 23-year history of the restrictor-plate era.
We're talking more than 206 mph on some laps, a double-up danger of speed new to everyone involved.
"This is crazy, man," Carl Edwards told a television reporter after the first 25-lap segment. "It's white knuckles. I feel like I've been riding a dirt bike. My hands are hurting. You have to have more trust than I've ever had with the guys I'm around."
"It was fun," Earnhardt said. "The racing might look a little crazy. It's a new style of racing, for sure."
"We're not used to racing like this," Jeff Burton said after the opening 25-lap segment. "It's a whole different environment. But we learned more in 25 laps than we did in four days of testing."
A two-car breakaway was the quickest way around the track, a trend that became obvious after the two practice sessions Friday when teammates Joey Logano and Kyle Busch paired up to exceed 203 mph. Eight other drivers exceeded 200 mph.
But NASCAR officials elected not to change the plates to slow the cars in the Shootout. The only change before the all-star event was eliminating two air hoses that were added this week.
The engine of the push car in the two-car train tends to overheat after a few laps; at least that was the theory. But eliminating the hoses didn't stop the drivers from pairing up on a cool night.
"That was the most unexpected race I've ever been a part of," Newman said. "But I liked the two-car separation. I would rather do this than race like we usually do at Talladega with three-wide in packs 10 cars deep.
"I think this type of racing is acceptable, but that's up to the fans. To me the biggest issue is the speed. The cars have to stay on the ground to be safe."
How fans will view this new form of plate racing remains to be seen. The 28 lead changes were a Shootout record. It also was more lead changes in 75 laps than 25 Daytona 500s had in 200 laps apiece.
Maybe they should credit two drivers for each lead change. With rare exceptions (Kyle Busch being one on a restart), you needed a two-car breakout to get to the front.
The twosome racing already has generated a list of monikers -- Daytona Double-Up, Two-Timers, Dancing with the Cars, Bumper Friends with Benefits. Take your pick.
"We gave them plenty of film for highlight reels on 'SportsCenter,'" Kyle Busch said. "It's a bummer deal to me. We wanted to come out of here with a bang. Well, I guess we did come out with a bang."
Most of the drivers liked the dynamic-duo racing.
"I was having a blast," Martin said. "I turned Kyle around and have no idea why that happened. We had hooked up for laps and it was not an issue."
Hamlin quit pushing Newman with the checkered flag in sight but said he went below the yellow line to avoid wrecking him.
"I thought it was a great three-wide finish," Hamlin said. "But I used pavement we shouldn't have used. If I had gotten in the left rear quarter panel of [Newman's] car he would have gotten airborne."
The only way Hamlin could have won it was for someone to pair up behind him. The question now is whether the two-pack attack will happen all day with 43 cars (well, 42, someone is the odd-man out) next weekend in the Daytona 500.
"Next week will be wild," McMurray said. "I think the fans will get what they pay for."
And any driver who hopes to win the Daytona 500 better pair up with a partner because good things happen in twos, and they happen real fast.
Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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2011 Daytona 500
The 53rd running of the Daytona 500 is on the horizon, with a new racing surface greeting competitors heading into a new season of hope. It all begins Feb. 20 at Daytona International Speedway.