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Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout marked the first time two-car drafts have been widely used at Daytona International Speedway – or anywhere, for that matter.
Drivers quickly discovered in preseason testing that with a combination of the new nose, new pavement and other factors, two cars could hook up and go faster than the pack.
It was a completely new form of racing that no one in NASCAR had ever seen before. But what did the drivers think of it?
Ryan Newman, who finished third, said called it "the most unexpected race I've ever been a part of."
"My spotter was driving for me as if I was the car in front of me when I was behind somebody pushing," Newman said. "You're at the mercy of his perception of car lengths and speed."
Drivers said that as the "pusher" car, they couldn't see over the spoiler of the car in front of them. And the leading car was basically being driven by the pusher – Newman even said he had no control as Jeff Gordon pushed him straight through a wreck.
Kevin Harvick, a pusher late in the race, was running his car so wide-open that he kept hitting the rev-limiter and was unable to stay tucked up underneath Gordon.
So Harvick told his spotter to go stand next to Gordon's spotter, Jeff Dickerson, and tap Dickerson on the shoulder whenever Harvick needed to relay a message to Gordon.
"Check up! Check up!" Harvick would say, and Gordon would get on the brakes.
Harvick's crew gave him the green light to pull the wires out of the rev-limiter, but he couldn't quite reach it.
"I would have (deactivated it), I will promise you that," he said.
Gordon said the new style of racing was a learning process "for everybody – the fans, for NASCAR, for us."
"It's a lot harder that it looks and it's just trying to get the right guy to either push or push you," Gordon said afterward. "Right there at the end, we had the right guy – I thought – but he kept hitting the rev-limiter. Every time he did, he fell off me so I just kept having to back up to him and back up to him."
Five-time defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson called the two-car drafts "a whole new game for sure."
"Interesting and fun to do something different," he said.
Not everyone shared Johnson's enthusiasm. Matt Kenseth, who was left behind when he couldn't find a drafting partner and lost all hope of contending, said it was "not really that great' and "isn't really that much fun."
"If you're the pusher, you can't see a thing and with going 207 miles an hour and pushing someone when you can't see, it's not a lot of fun," Kenseth said. "At the end there, I was the odd man out because I couldn't get with a group of two.
"Everybody was grouped up in twos, and if you can't get with one other car in a group, you're pretty much done and you're just gonna fall back."
Kyle Busch, whose two-car draft came to an abrupt end when he was spun by Mark Martin, said the synchronized racing was "a little nerve-wracking."
"You know the guy behind you can't see, so you have to make slow, subtle moves," he said. "You can't make too fast of moves because otherwise, you get spun out."
Busch was asked if this type of racing would be acceptable for the Daytona 500.
"It's going to be what we got," he said. "It's not going to change here in the next week or two."
Related: What did you think of the two-car drafts? Vote in our poll.
When Denny Hamlin darted below the yellow line on the last lap of Saturday night's Bud Shootout and made a pass on Ryan Newman, half of him thought NASCAR would declare him the winner.
The other half – the one that turned out to be correct – knew NASCAR might penalize him for the illegal pass. And officials did so without much hesitation, awarding the win to Kurt Busch and relegating Hamlin to 12th place.
So why did Hamlin go below the yellow line when every driver knows it's against the rules?
For safety reasons, Hamlin claimed.
"The yellow line is there to protect us and the fans' safety, and I just chose to take the safer route," Hamlin said. "A win in the Shootout is not worth sending the 39 through the grandstands.
"As fast as we're running, if I get into his left rear, that car will go airborne. It was a tough position."
NASCAR tells drivers in the pre-race meeting that passing below the yellow line is strictly forbidden, but leaves a judgment call as to whether a driver will be penalized if he is forced down the track by another car.
Hamlin said he "moved my car down to the bottom to avoid contact," but obviously officials weren't buying that.
"It's just coming to the checkered and you've really got no room to work with, so you try to use all the asphalt you can," he said. "It's just in the heat of the moment, you're just trying to do the best thing and not cause a wreck."
Unfortunately for Hamlin, it was an expensive decision. Second place paid about $95,000, while 12th place only paid $38,000 (drivers typically get about half the winnings).
After watching NASCAR's best drivers spend their evening at the Bud Shootout driving in pairs instead of one big draft pack, no one is quite sure what to call the new form of racing.
No one had ever seen this before at Daytona International Speedway. Because of the new surface and the new car, it turned out two cars were faster than racing in a pack.
I proposed to call it "Dragonfly racing" because it reminds me of two dragonflies mating, flying around connected to one another. Race winner Kurt Busch's proposal was to call it "Teammate of the Day."
But many of you on Twitter had some even more creative ideas. Let's look at some of the best suggestions:
After a race marred by wrecks, the 2011 Bud Shootout came down to the final few laps — and a dramatic run by Kurt Busch gave him the victory.
Busch took his Penske Racing No. 22 car to Victory Lane after Denny Hamlin passed Busch at the last second on the low side, only to have his pass deemed illegal because he passed below the yellow line.
Hamlin went on to finish 12th, while Jamie McMurray took second.
It's the first time the Bud Shootout has been won by a Dodge, and it was Busch's first-ever win in a restrictor plate race. There were 28 lead changes, which is an all-time record for the Bud Shootout.
Full results from the 2011 Bud Shootout at Daytona International Speedway are as follows:
It's time for the 2011 Bud Shootout – finally!
And of course, that means it's time for our first live race chat of the year. For the newbies out there, here's how it works:
Nobody likes a know-it-all, but it can't hurt if you whip out a few interesting facts during tonight's Bud Shootout to impress your friends and family.
So while you're watching the Daytona International Speedway action from home, check out these notes and wow your buddies.
-- The Budweiser Shootout is a 75-lap race divided into two segments. First, there's a 25-lap segment after which drivers can adjust their cars during a 10-minute break.
After the break, the Shootout concludes with a 50-lap run. Both green and yellow flag laps will count in both segments.
-- Kevin Harvick has won the past two Bud Shootouts – no one has never won three in a row.
-- Dale Earnhardt Sr. won six Bud Shootouts (the most of anyone), but Tony Stewart leads all active drivers with three victories. Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have won two each.
The Weird Facts:
-- Even though the Shootout is somewhat of an all-star event, the last person to win the race and go on to win the Sprint Cup title was Stewart in 2002. Overall, it's happened seven times (but Earnhardt Sr. accounted for four of those).
-- Winning the Shootout isn't good for a driver's Daytona 500 chances. The last person to win the Shootout and sweep Speedweeks by winning the 500 was Jeff Gordon in 1997.
-- Mark Martin will tie Bill Elliott for the most Bud Shootout appearances of all time tonight with his 23rd.
The Smart Picks:
-- Tony Stewart: Tops in Daytona driver rating, which is the most reliable stat NASCAR offers. Plus, he's won the Shootout three times before.
-- Anyone with an Earnhardt-Childress Racing engine: All these guys do is win restrictor-plate races. They swept last year's events between Harvick (Bud Shootout, spring Talladega, summer Daytona), Jamie McMurray (Daytona 500) and Clint Bowyer (fall Talladega).
-- Dale Earnhardt Jr.: It's Dale Jr. It's Daytona. Duh.
Editor's note: After Dale Earnhardt Jr. drew the pole for tonight's Bud Shootout at Daytona International Speedway, he gave a few reporters quite the education on the two-car bump-draft and how he believes the Daytona races will be won.
Here's a transcript of what Earnhardt Jr.'s comments:
Q: How soon do you think drivers will link up into the two-car drafts?
First lap. I wouldn't be surprised at all. Guys are tuning their cars to where they're getting more comfortable putting their engines through that.
The most concern is the engines – cycling the motors in and out of temperatures like that. I think guys are getting a little more comfortable with that.
In the Shootout, it's possible to see guys push the envelope and see how much the engine can take.
Q: You practiced the exchange between the two cars a lot during practice.
Yeah, the exchange is important. It's real hard to get back to the guy in the lead when you get put into second place. The leader has to slow down to half throttle and brake to what feels like 60 mph to get the other car back up underneath him.
There's a beach ball effect (of an air pocket) between the two cars, and to be able to bust through that and get the car back up there, get the cars sealed up together and get going again, you've got to do that quick. It's kind of tough to do.
As the lead car, you've got to go completely out of your way to get the car behind you reattached. It's just taken everybody a little while to understand; you know, we're not used to lifting and giving up that much speed.
Q: Can you actually feel it when you break through that air bubble?
You can feel and you can see it visually. (The trailing car) will sort of be sitting there, and you have to brake-check, and he'll bust through the bubble and it sort of plugs him in.
Air is coming around the tail piece and it's also coming over the spoiler – he's got to get around that and get underneath it.
It's always been there, but the cars haven't been so slow that you can push each other all the way around the racetrack like you can now. It would be fast enough to where it would be too dangerous and you'd feel so out of control in the corner, we never did it.
Q: If NASCAR changes the restrictor plate to reduce speeds, how will that change the two-car draft?
Well, if they slow us down, we'll just be able to do this better. And it possibly could come a situation where even three or four cars could do it together.
If you slow the cars down, you make this easy. When the cars are just a little bit faster, you get into the corner and spin each other out.
We're almost in that position in Talladega. It's way easier to do (the two-car draft) here than in Talladega because of the speed. At Talladega, we almost wreck each other – as I've done to Burton last year – you can wreck each other bump-drafting in the corner.
But the plate is so small here that it's way easy. So easy. But in December when we were testing with (a bigger) plate, we tried to do that bump-draft shit, and it wouldn't work in the corner. We'd get in the corner and almost wreck – just that little bit (made the difference).
If you slow it down, it's not going to stop it.
Q: When is the last point where you'd want to switch places with someone during the race?
Well, what you want to do is push somebody until the last straightaway – then pass him. You don't want to pass him too early, because he'll be able to pass you back. Or if you pass him and don't let him get back to you, somebody (else) is going to run by you.
As soon as you pull out, his car is going to do 185 mph – that's as fast as his car can go with that plate. It goes 185 by itself, and if you pull out, that's (the speed) he's going to be doing in two football fields.
Q: So it's all about the slingshot move to win?
Absolutely. That's the whole thing. When you're in second, whenever you want to pass the guy, you can do it in 50 yards. You pull out, and he just stops – it just kills his car.
There's a 20 mph difference between how the cars run by themselves and how they run in the bump-draft. As soon as you pull out, you can just go right by him.
It's definitely best to be running second in a little two-car lock off of Turn 4 and (pass) somewhere between there and the flagstand. It's the same thing they were doing at Talladega last year.
Q: Is the two-car draft going to spoil the show?
I'm not sure. I think it's still dramatic. Ten two-car packs aren't as cool as one 20-car pack, no. But it's still going to be interesting, and everybody is going to be talking about the finish for weeks and weeks, no matter how it works out. It'll be good.
The 2011 Budweiser Shootout lineup has just been set at the Budweiser Draw Party outside Daytona International Speedway's Turn 4 – and it's safe to say the fans in attendance were pretty happy with the results.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. correctly guessed the bottle that had the "POLE" flag inside it, giving him the top spot for Saturday night's race. Fans cheered loudly as Earnhardt Jr. held up the flag and received a half-hug from an excited host Kenny Wallace.
"Pretty easy," Earnhardt Jr. said afterward. "It's not much of a big deal. If you had your choice, that's where you'd want to start. But the race can be won from anywhere in the field, and it doesn't really change our strategy or make our situation any easier."
Tony Stewart will start alongside Earnhardt Jr. on the front row, followed by Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne.
Drivers select their starting spots from Budweiser bottles lined up on the Speed stage, so the order is completely random.
Here's the full lineup:
If there was ever such thing as an exciting practice, this was it.
Not only did 10 cars top 200 mph (Joey Logano led the session at 203.087 mph) in the final Budweiser Shootout practice on Friday night, but the lights suddenly went out halfway through the session.
As Turns 1, 2 and the backstretch fell into darkness, four cars – Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards – were drafting between Turns 1 and 2.
It certainly got everyone's attention, because the spotters suddenly couldn't see as the cars hit the backstretch (the lights were out all the way to Turn 3).
After a 15-minute delay, the lights were restored and drivers returned to the track to complete the practice.
Hamlin later said the darkness on the track wasn't as bad as it looked.
"Nah, there was actually a lot of light," he said. "You could see pretty well. Turns 3 and 4 were lit up, so it was kind of reflecting down the backstretch."
"It was...different," he added with a chuckle. "It wasn't anything too crazy. It actually kind of felt like the Rolex (24 hour race)."
Hamlin said he never lifted and would have stayed in the gas if NASCAR hadn't called a caution.
"We could probably drive around here in the dark, it's so easy to drive around here," he said.
Logano's speed was incredibly high for NASCAR standards, and nine others were in the same range.
Aside from Logano, Kyle Busch (203.082) also topped the 203 mph mark, followed by Michael Waltrip, Bobby Labonte and Greg Biffle.
Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top 10.
Several teams opted to skip the final practice session entirely; only 18 of the 24 Bud Shootout cars hit the track.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. kicked off the first NASCAR practice session of the year the way he and his passionate fan base hoped: On top of the speed charts.
Earnhardt Jr. posted the fastest time in a brief 45-minute practice for Saturday's Budweiser Shootout, recording a fast lap of 199.862 mph.
That barely edged Mark Martin's 199.853 mph, which was followed by Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer and Kyle Busch.
Jeff Burton, Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin, Greg Biffle and Joey Logano completed the top 10.
Throughout the practice, cars hooked up in a two-car draft – as is expected to be common throughout the Budweiser Shootout and the Daytona 500.
Drivers practiced swapping spots in order not to overheat the "pusher's" car, since that will be a much-needed strategy throughout Speedweeks.
Derrike Cope was a pathetically slow 172.970 – seven seconds slower than the leaders.
The final Bud Shootout practice is tonight at 6:30 Eastern, followed by the Budweiser Shootout draw party at 8 p.m.
The criteria for Budweiser Shootout eligibility is as wacky as ever in 2011, with the days of the pole-winning drivers making up the field for Daytona International Speedway's exhibition race long gone.
If you wanted to get into the Bud Shootout field this year, here's what you had to do: 1) Made the Chase last year or 2) Ever won a Sprint Cup title or 3) Won the Bud Shootout before or 4) Won any points race at Daytona before or 5) Been the Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year in the past 10 years.
Got it? If not, maybe this list will help clear things up. Here is the list of drivers eligible for the Bud Shootout in 2011 (in alphabetical order):
NASCAR's brief offseason officially ends today with the first practice of 2011, kicking off Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway.
Over the next 10 days leading up to the Daytona 500, NASCAR will have 17 practice sessions and six sanctioned races across its three national touring series.
We'll be right here for all of it, providing continuous updates and news from the track. SB Nation's Daytona 500 coverage will be spread out in several different streams, and this one will deal with the facts: Schedule, start times, stats, etc.
So to kick things off, here's the full NASCAR schedule for Daytona Speedweeks (all times Eastern):
Friday, Feb. 11
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