DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. - The Budweiser Shootout could be viewed as an extended test session for next week's season-opening Daytona 500. After watching this year's race, the stars of the Sprint Cup Series have some work to do.
The Sanctioning Body made a lot of changes in advance of Speedweeks and it appeared to have overwhelmed the top-25 drivers from 2011. The drivers, mostly accustomed to the two-car tandem from previous seasons, were often aggressive and downright out of control at several points during the 80-lap exhibition.
The first multi-car accident occurred on lap 10 when David Ragan turned Paul Menard sideways, collecting Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Denny Hamlin, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Michael Waltrip. A second accident occurred with 20 to go when Marcos Ambrose turned Joey Logano and collected Martin Truex Jr., Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and Kenseth for a second-straight time.
The third accident was more of the same, as Jeff Gordon turned Kyle Busch and collected Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray. What was the common denominator in all three accidents?
One driver pushing another's left side and turning him into the field.
The drivers have to take responsibility. They practiced in race trim and knew these conditions would be prevalent. The drivers have to exercise better caution and patience. Much like in previous seasons, these guys can't bump draft in the corners - especially on the left-rear quarter-panel. These cars are just too sensitive in the draft and at 200 mph.
The drivers aren't completely at fault.
NASCAR essentially blinded their drivers when they took away the ability for teams to cross-communicate during a race. With the near-elimination of the two-car draft, outlawing the cross-communication of teams was a pointless endeavor. The drivers need to communicate with their peers just to let them know how what they're planning.
There's more than enough surprises at 200 mph - let's not add another to the long list of shocks.
A lot of these problems will be alleviated through trial and error. This was the Budweiser Shootout - an exhibition race. The non-points format created a 'win or crash trying' atmosphere and that's exactly what happened.
A combined 23 of 25 starters received damage at some point. Phoenix Racing owner James Finch even told driver Kurt Busch to "bring the checkered flag or bring the steering wheel."
Finch barely received his steering wheel.
Ultimately, the Shootout was an excellent start to Speedweeks. Drop a little race rust and get some help from the sanctioning body and 2012 may present the most exciting races in NASCAR history.