The 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season kicked off Saturday night with the Bud Shootout. It is an invitational race, that this year, saw 24 drivers entered into the fray.
The format is simple. Starting positions are determined by random draw. From then on, it is just like any other race on the schedule with one exception. It is a 75 lap shootout, that is broken down into two segments. The first segment is 25 laps, while the second segment is 50 laps. There is a 10-minute caution period in between the two segments.
This year's version of the Bud Shootout was a race that saw a plethora of two-car breakaways as the overriding theme. It was the first time these cars have run under race conditions since the track was repaved over the offseason.
In a race that saw teammates working together all throughout the night, it was two non-teammates, running different makes of cars, that swept the top two positions.
Kurt Busch was declared the winner, after it was deemed that Denny Hamlin, the man who crossed the finish line first, had done so illegally by passing under the double yellow line at the bottom of the race track.
Jamie McMurray, the defending Daytona 500 champion came home in second place. Busch and McMurray spent the majority of the last 20 laps hooked nose to tail, and that combination worked to perfection.
The early part of the race was dominated by Richard Childress Racing teammates, Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick. Burton, who led a race high 32 laps, many of them with Harvick pushing him, was relegated to an eighth-place finish.
The race was marred by three incidents. The first on track incident was the biggest. Regan Smith, Carl Edwards and Dale Earnhardt Jr., all racing for the same position, got into each other. The resulting melee took all three of them out of the race, along with the cars of Juan Montoya, Joey Logano and Kevin Conway.
The second caution saw Mark Martin and Kyle Busch tangle, while running fifth and sixth respectively. In that incident, it appeared that Busch got a little high on the track, causing his car to get just a touch loose, and with Martin providing the bump draft from behind, the resulting contact sent Busch's car around and ended up collecting Martin.
The final caution of the night was a similar incident to the second caution. In this case, it was Tony Stewart providing the bump to Michael Waltrip. The contact sent Waltrip around and through the infield grass.
In the end, it was a four-car breakaway. Ryan Newman led Hamlin, Busch and McMurray as the laps wound down.
As the field took the white flag, the three drivers behind Newman all began to make their move. The duo of Busch and McMurray went high, while Hamlin tried to go low. Exiting turn four, Hamlin and Busch had split Newman and were in a drag race for the win.
The victor was made clear, when replays clearly showed that Hamlin got well below the yellow line, thus resulting in a penalty.
The win for Busch marks the first time in his career that he has ever pulled into Victory Lane at Daytona. While rejoicing in the win, Busch was quick to thank McMurray for the help, acknowledging that his win wouldn't have been possible if not for the drafting help that the 2010 Daytona 500 champion provided.
Hamlin meanwhile, had no complaints with NASCAR's ruling to penalize him. He said that he understood, and that he only did what he had to do. "A win in the Shootout isn't worth sending the No. 39 (Newman) airborne over."
He realized that at the speeds the cars were carrying, any contact with Newman, at that point on the race track, would have resulted in a horrific crash, and that it wasn't worth endangering anyone's livelihood over.
Up next for Busch and the rest of the Sprint Cup drivers is qualifying time trials for the Daytona 500. That takes place on Sunday, with the top two spots being the only ones that will be locked into place. The rest of the field will be lined up based on the results of the Twin 150 qualifying races, held on Thursday.