Posted By Pete Pistone
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - The new-look Daytona International Speedway produced the first exciting race of a new era Saturday night when Kurt Busch scored a thrilling victory in the Budweiser Shootout .
Busch darted to the lead in a wild dash to the checkered flag and was able to nose his Penske Racing Dodge ahead at the finish.
In reality it wasn't as close as it looked since Denny Hamlin was ruled to be below the yellow "out of bounds" line when he made his pass for the top spot and was subsequently black flagged by NASCAR.
But that gave Busch the win over defending Daytona 500 champion Jamie McMurray , who had worked with Busch in one of the two-car tandems that proved to be so successful Saturday night.
Despite the thrilling ending, Saturday night's race will be remembered for two things - the two-car tangos that the field immediately broke into during every green flag run and the high speeds that at times topped 206 mph.
The two-car draft was expected after what a new racing surface did to Talladega a few years ago. Since Daytona's sister restrictor plate track received a brand new asphalt topping, the hot ticket has been for two drivers to hook up nose to tail and speed around the race track. When Daytona's old asphalt gave way to the new surface, the tandem style of racing went on display when the teams tested during December and January.
But not until Saturday night's race was the phenomenon truly depicted with at times seven or eight packs of two running behind one another on the track.
"It's a lot different from the big groups and packs of cars we used to have here," said Dale Earnhardt Jr . who started from the pole and ran near the front of the field until getting swept up in a six car accident. "It was a lot of fun and I liked it. But it does take some getting used to."
Whether fans like this new plate racing style over the sometimes insane four-wide packs of cars running side-by-side in the draft remains to be seen. Thursday's Gatorade Duel twin 150-mile qualifying races will most likely see the same kind of style seen Saturday night with both events being relatively short dashes versus next week's 500-mile grind.
The high speeds may not have another chance to see the light of day. NASCAR officials will most certainly continue to review the issue and the possibility of a smaller restrictor plate put into play by Thursday or next Sunday is very real. While the drivers seem comfortable racing at 205 or 206 mph it's the possibility of what might happen when a car gets sideways or backwards at that rate of speed that has some concerned.
"Keeping these cars on the ground has to be NASCAR's number one priority," said Ryan Newman .
Qualifying for the Daytona 500 is now set for Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. ET.
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