Kyle Busch was all over the place at Daytona International Speedway Saturday night. So maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise he finished where all drivers want to be at the end of a race – Victory Lane.
Busch was nearly spun out twice and avoided three of the ‘Big One’ type crashes to win his first Bud Shootout. He pushed eventual second-place finisher Tony Stewart to the front on the final lap, then timed his final pass perfectly to nip Stewart by 0.013 of a second in the two segment 75-lap event on the 2.5-mile oval.
“I don’t know how many times I spun out, but I didn’t spin out,” Busch said in Victory Lane. “It was fun to drive when I when I wasn’t getting turned around. I’m glad to see the pack back making it interesting for us drivers and hopefully it was great for the fans.”
Busch was running second behind Stewart when he avoided the final ‘Big One’ of the night that began when he was bumped from behind by Jeff Gordon. Busch controlled his car enough to stay on the bottom of the track, but Gordon slid up the track collecting contenders Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
That left a green-white-checkered finish with Stewart starting in the lead. But Marcos Ambrose was pushed to the lead by Brad Keselowski until Busch found Stewart at the beginning in the final lap and went to the outside lane. Busch then pushed Stewart ahead of the pack and made the winning pass.
“I pulled low and got in behind Stewart and we just mowed right up through there,” said Busch, who gave Toyota its first Bud Shootout win. “He had a fast car and I’m like ‘this is a two guy race right now and it’s going to be either me or him.’ I’ve seen the move done before. It was my turn to do it this time. Stewart had me the last time here in July a couple of years ago.”
Stewart’s team rebounded from a crash in Friday’s practice to nearly win Saturday.
“It can be done,” Stewart said of getting a win at next Sunday’s Daytona 500. “I got just part of it, just not all of what I needed to do at the end. Considering where this car was at yesterday, I’m just really proud of Steve Addington, Tony Gibson and Greg Zipadelli. All three teams at Stewart-Haas Racing did an awesome job. They even let me work on it, which is kind of scary.”
As is often the case in restrictor-plate racing, the end can be the most exciting and scary part. Gordon’s crash finished in a barrel roll before landing on his roof. With Stewart in the lead, he escaped the third melee of the night that also collected Kurt Busch, Jamie McMurray, Ambrose, A.J. Allmendinger and Carl Edwards.
“It’s just getting down to the end of the race and it’s time to go,” Gordon said. “The difference now is we are still bump drafting, but we can’t do it for a long period of time. The cars are moving around a lot and you have to be real careful with how you push and when you push. It’s going to take some patience.”
The top-10 after Busch and Stewart were Ambrose, Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer, Edwards and Juan Pablo Montoya. They were also the only remaining cars on the lead lap as just 13 of the 25 starters were running at the end.
The fact that Busch was one of those was quite remarkable. With 28 laps to go, he was nudged by Jimmie Johnson, only to save the car after twice going below the yellow line, nearly out of control. The almost-spin did leave some damage to Busch’s front end, but a crash with 20 laps to go gave his crew the needed time on pit row to make some repairs.
That second ‘Big One’ of the night occurred when Ambrose nipped Joey Logano on the left bumper. Logano slid up the track gathering Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Ambrose, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex, Jr.
“Right now, these guys car are going pretty fast, but it depends on where you get hit and how you get hit,” Logano said of the cause for the wrecks.
Harvick tried to make it back to pit road with his car engulfed in flames and told his crew on the radio that he couldn’t stop because there were no brakes. He added that some drivers might need a refresher course on where the brake pedal is at and how it should be used at Daytona.
“I knew I was one fire, I just figured it would go out,” Harvick said. “It’s going to take a lot more patience from guys who haven’t done this before. You can’t hit people in the left rear. There’s two pedals in these things.”
It was apparent early that this might be a wild-thing kind of race. The first ‘Big One’ took place in the opening 25-lap segment of the race on lap 9. It happened when David Ragan was pushing Paul Menard on the inside line. Menard shot up the track and collected others, including Ragan, Michael Waltrip, Hamlin, Montoya, Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne. It appeared from replays that Ragan stayed a little lower as Menard drifted slightly higher hitting him on the left side of the bumper, which seems to be a common denominator in the wrecks at Daytona in these first two days.
“It’s a little crazy, but a heck of a lot of fun,” Martin Truex, Jr. said during the scheduled break before the final 50-lap segment.
“The car’s pretty good. This is fun,” said Carl Edwards. “It’s a good way to start the year. I’m glad we didn’t caught up in the wreck. I didn’t see exactly what happened.”
Drivers were also watching their temperature gauges, which can affect drafting when they need to back off and let the radiator get some air to keep the engine cool.
“I’m one of them that was worried about them and I’m one of them that’s overheating right now,” Clint Bowyer said during the break.
But the biggest news for drivers and fans alike might have been that the pack is back for restrictor plate tracks after watching two-car racing last year.
“We had a blast tonight,” said Kurt Busch. “You could feel the energy and the excitement and the butterflies with 10 to go.”