NASCAR Budweiser Shootout: 10 Lessons We Learned over the Weekend at Daytona
The Budweiser Shootout at Daytona is designed to be a spectacle for the fans as the Cup drivers hit the track for the first official NASCAR event of Speedweeks. The stomach-churning drama of the event did not fail to disappoint in the excitement department.
NASCAR listened to the fans and gave them exactly what they wanted. The two-car tandem racing turned into something very edgy and best avoided.
Every lap was breathtaking because you knew just how close the big one was. Drivers went from the rear to the front and back again in a heartbeat.
Accidents were spectacular, but fiery and scary. A lot of first-class equipment was destroyed and it was costly for all the team owners except for the few cars that escaped unscathed.
Watching this non-points race taught us some lessons about how the remaining races may play out. We have to wonder if some more rule changes from NASCAR may be in the offing.
Let's take a look at some of the lessons learned in the event, not only about the style of racing, but about the participants as well.
1. Kyle Busch Is a Great Wheelman
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
In this picture, Kyle Busch appears to be wrecking and he was, except not only once, but twice, he had the car control to get his car straightened up from this kind of action.
Not a lot of drivers would have the ability to drive the way Busch did during this race and end up in Victory Lane with a significantly damaged car.
Watching him was exciting and his move at the end of the race to pass Tony Stewart ended with the closest finish ever in a Bud Shootout. Busch took the checkered flag by .013 seconds.
Busch may have been in trouble at the end of last season with his primary sponsor, M&Ms, pulling their name from the final two races.
The No.18 Toyota has the major sponsor back for 2012 and Busch did them proud by taking the car to victory.
Busch also has served notice to the competition that he is going to be a serious contender for wins and the NASCAR Sprint Cup title.
2. The Big One Is a Given
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Jeff Gordon's No. 24 was evidence of one of several "big ones" that occurred during the Budweiser Shootout. He took a wild slide on the driver's side and ended up flipping. It was his first time on his lid in a Cup car.
The carnage was heavy with the pack racing that has returned. All the drivers that were involved in the major crashes were of course disappointed, but they claimed the racing was fun.
If NASCAR doesn't make any major changes with rules before the "Great American Race," you can bet the race will be one of survival and there will be some wild crashes.
3. Will NASCAR Make Changes?
Todd Warshaw/Getty Images
NASCAR took the necessary steps to give the fans the type of racing that is more entertaining by discouraging the two-car tandem drafts.
Pack racing made its return in big style. Drivers once again have more control over their destiny on the high banks.
At Daytona, the cars are yawed to the right with the theory being that if it is pushed, especially toward the left rear, that it will straighten up.
The problem was that nearly every time a car got pushed on the left rear it ended up in a crash.
So it remains to be seen if NASCAR will limit when or if cars can be pushed. It is the fastest way around the track when it works and there is no way to eliminate it unless there is a ruling by the powers that be.
4. Cars Are Edgy
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Changes have been mandated that included closing up the front end more so cars would overheat if they draft for very long. Some cars were getting really hot, approaching 300 degrees.
The rear spoiler is also smaller which reduces downforce on the car. The shark fin down the side of the car is supposed to help stabilize the car and aid with side-drafting predicaments.
Though the drivers are able to control the cars pretty well in the pack racing, the cars are still really edgy and it takes little to spin them out of control.
Drivers just learned how to tandem-draft and now they have to relearn how to race in packs with the changes that have been made to the Cup cars. It should be a fairly quick learning curve for the pros.
5. Spotters and Crew Chiefs Are Lifelines
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
Drivers on the superspeedways don't know what is going on in front of a car that they are pushing in a tandem draft.
NASCAR has stopped communication with other teams on the in-car radios. Last year multiple channels were used for communication with a flock of other teams.
The driver who pushes must rely on calls from the spotter and crew chief. We learned in the Bud Shootout that with the pack racing being so intense, they really need to be a driver's eyes and ears all the time.
6. May Have Some New Power Hitters in 2012
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
We all know the usual suspects that will be contenders for wins and the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.
There are some drivers who must perform this year. Joey Logano is one such driver with a heavy duty sponsor and this season is the last year of his contract.
Logano, Marcos Ambrose and others strutted their stuff in the Budweiser Shootout. It may well be an indicator of some drivers amping up their game big time in 2012.
7. EFI Is a Non-Issue
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Much has been made of NASCAR going to Electronic Fuel Injection this season.
It appears in the practice sessions and the Budweiser Shootout, that they really got it right and the EFI system should not cause any problems.
The cars sound as good as they ever did and we may still see a few flames out the header pipes during the night races.
8. Kurt Busch Had Fun
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
Since Kurt Busch departed Penske Racing and became the driver for the single-car team, Phoenix Racing, he speaks of the fun he is having with the small, old-school team.
Busch was forced to a backup car for the Budweiser Shootout because of a practice crash. His owner gave him permission to go for a win at all costs because it was an old car.
It may have been an old car, but the Hendrick Motorsports powerplant had the 2004 Cup champion running for the lead.
Busch had a good shot at backing up his win of the Bud Shootout last year when Jeff Gordon's No. 24 careened in front of him in the final laps and the ensuing wreck destroyed his car as well as others.
After the incident, we saw a smiling, happy Busch who praised his team and thanked them for the opportunity to race like he did.
There is little doubt the senior Busch brother is trying to rebuild his reputation, court sponsors and with a little luck, capture a win or two.
9. Fans Got What They Wanted
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Fans got treated to an interesting 2011 NASCAR season and a thriller Chase finale. The one thing fans disliked most, other than maybe some of the races at cookie-cutter tracks, was tandem drafting.
Sure, there will be some tandem drafting at the superspeedways, but it will be minimal compared to the last few years.
Old-school racing is back on the high banks and the drivers are loving it, as should the fans. NASCAR is trying to get fans in the seats and in front of televisions. Racing like the Bud Shootout should do it.
10. Predictor for the Daytona 500
John Harrelson/Getty Images
The Budweiser Shootout is a non-points, kickoff event for NASCAR at Daytona International Speedway. It is also a chance for drivers to find out what to expect from their cars.
The cars in the Shootout are not the same as the cars that will be raced in the "Great American Race," but they are close enough that it serves as a true predictor for the racing that lies ahead.
Certainly there is more aggressiveness and a nothing-to-lose attitude with a well-paying, non-points event. It did prove that pack racing will be very much the same in the Daytona 500.
It was also an indicator of the number of wrecks that we are sure to see. During the final laps of the big race, you can bet there will be some pushing and slingshot moves.
If the Budweiser Shootout was an abbreviated version of the racing we shall see on Feb. 26, then we are in for one wild and crazy Daytona 500 that can be won by most anyone.