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The mangled sheet metal and car parts were strewn throughout the Daytona International Speedway garage like the set of a disaster movie. And many of the men who drove the machines – even the ones who escaped unscathed – did not look particularly happy.
"Ain't much racing anymore," Clint Bowyer said, walking through the garage. "Just wait your turn to wreck."
"I just feel bad, because I can't do anything to make the car faster for the guys," Ryan Newman said, making the same walk moments later. "You're just at the mercy of the situation. It's not good."
"I don't know what to say," Jeff Burton said. "Plate racing is a huge challenge. One of the great things about the tandem (racing) was it separated the pack; one of the bad things about the tandem is I guess people thought it was boring."
And so we've arrived at this: The 2012 Bud Shootout turned into a Saturday night Demolition Derby, finishing with only 10 cars on the lead lap and half the field in the garage.
But that might not be a bad thing. Depending on your perspective, the race was either a disgrace to NASCAR or one of the most entertaining Shootouts in years.
The fans had told NASCAR they hated the two-car tandem drafts, which had become a phenomenon and dominated Daytona Speedweeks in 2011, so officials reacted by making changes to limit the drafting.
Saturday's Bud Shootout proved the changes worked, restoring the old-style pack racing.
"It was really like you just rewound the clock to three years ago," sixth-place finisher Greg Biffle said.
But eliminating the two-car drafts also turned out to be a case of "Be careful what you wish for." The return of the big packs meant a comeback for the "Big One" – the massive multi-car pileups that have made Daytona and its sister track Talladega famous.
"Look at the guys working on those cars," one disgusted crew member said. "Pack racing is real 'fun,' huh?"
As it turned out, there wasn't a "Big One" on Saturday night, though; there was a "Big Three."
A trio of nasty crashes wiped out most of the contenders and left the race up to Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch to decide. Busch, who had made jaw-dropping saves to keep his car intact and avoid wrecks, beat Stewart to the finish line in the closest-ever Bud Shootout result.
Not surprisingly, both Stewart and Busch were among those quite pleased with the pack racing.
"I had more fun as a driver tonight than what we've had in the past," Stewart said. "... This is a lot more fun than the two-car stuff."
"It's all in the drivers' hands, how boring or how exciting we want to make the race," Busch said. "I think tonight's was pretty exciting."
There were other happy drivers, too – including a couple whose nights ended prematurely.
"I like this kind of racing better," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said after crashing out of the race. "At least I know what to expect. I feel like I have a better chance with this style than I did last year, for damn sure."
Even Jeff Gordon, who went flipping across the track and barrel-rolled for the first time in his racing career, said he approved of the pack racing.
"It's pretty wild and crazy, but I like this better than what we had last year, definitely," he said.
But other drivers saw it completely differently.
"You're just running into each other," Brad Keselowski said. "Just a bunch of angry drivers in a traffic jam. It's difficult."
It all comes down to personal preference. Just as with NASCAR fans, the drivers aren't close to a consensus on the preferred form of restrictor-plate racing.
But love it or hate it, pack racing is back. And there are 500 more miles of it to come next Sunday.
"I think that's what the fans want to see, you know?" Biffle said. "And we were only three-wide tonight. Wait until the 500. We're going to be four-wide."
The type of person that watches NASCAR in hopes of big crashes certainly got their fix on Saturday night during the 2012 Bud Shootout, but so did those who watch for the good bits of driving. At the end of a race that featured all kinds of wrecks and just three cars finishing without crash damage, one of the drivers who did sustain damage to his car came away with the win. Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart raced to the line at the end of the first green-white-checkered finish in an extended race, with Busch edging Stewart for the win by 1/100 of a second.
Here's the video:
The most amusing part of this video is probably Smoke's crew chief, Steve Addington, reminding his driver that the man behind him is, in fact, going to try to win the race. Busch timed his move perfectly to just barely get by Stewart, and it wasn't even his best move of the race.
Busch miraculously saved his car from wrecking on two separate occasions during the race, something most of the drivers weren't able to do. Only 10 out of the 25 entered cars finished on the lead lap.
The 2012 Bud Shootout is quickly turning into a Saturday night demolition derby.
Marcos Ambrose hit Joey Logano in the left rear, triggering a nasty six-car wreck during NASCAR's preseason exhibition race with 20 laps to go at Daytona International Speedway.
The crash destroyed the cars of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. – all three of them contenders to win – as well as Matt Kenseth, Ambrose and Logano.
"I didn't see anything," Earnhardt Jr. said. "We all just kind of went up in the fence."
"When you get hit there, it just starts spinning you out before you know it," Logano said. "It's unfortunate. I felt like I had a car that was capable of winning, for sure."
Kevin Harvick criticized some of the more inexperienced drivers for not understanding that drivers should not push one another in the left rear corner.
There are 14 laps remaining in the race.
Clint Bowyer went for a spin through the Daytona International Speedway grass on Saturday night after he was spun by Michael Waltrip Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. with 44 laps remaining in the Bud Shootout.
Bowyer was trying to change lanes and go around Carl Edwards, but Truex missed the memo. When Bowyer went high, Truex hooked the No. 15 car and sent it skidding out of the pack, across the pavement and into the grass.
The Bud Shootout has been a wild affair thus far. The two-car drafts seem to be gone for sure, but it's brought back the hold-your-breath, wait-for-a-wreck racing.
"It is going to be chaotic," Paul Menard said after being caught in an early 'Big One.' "We have to figure out if we want to just ride around or not, because it is a big, big chance you are going to wreck."
Menard said the racing is "way more out of control" than last year.
David Ragan, who triggered the first wreck with Menard, said NASCAR "definitely accomplished their goal" of eliminating the two-car drafts.
"We can't run together very long at all unless we're overheating, so I think a lap or two is really about all," he said.
There will be 39 laps to go when the race restarts.
Well that didn't take long.
Big pack racing has apparently returned to Daytona International Speedway, but so too has the 'Big One.'
With Dale Earnhardt Jr. leading on lap 8 of Saturday night's Bud Shootout, David Ragan inadvertently turned Paul Menard, setting off a fiery chain reaction which collected about a dozen cars.
In addition to Menard and Ragan, the cars of Kasey Kahne, Denny Hamlin, Michael Waltrip and Matt Kenseth were destroyed. Drivers Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer and Tony Stewart were also among those to sustain damage.
The Bud Shootout was viewed as a key test to see how the racing would be in the Daytona 500. Last year's event was dominated by two-car tandem drafts, which were unpopular with fans.
If the early going of tonight's race is any indication, the two-car drafts won't be as widespread in next week's race. On the flip side, multi-car wrecks could be more prevalent.
On the lap 15 restart, Earnhardt Jr. leads Kevin Harvick.
NASCAR's most popular driver jumped out to the lead on the first lap of Saturday night's Bud Shootout at Daytona International Speedway and continues to lead in the early going.
The exhibition race marks the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season and serves as a preview to next Sunday's Daytona 500.
Tonight's race is a 75-lap event split into two segments: An opening 25-lap run followed by a 10-minute break and a 50-lap dash to the finish.
Four cars had to start in the rear of the field as the result of damage from a Friday practice crash: Brad Keselowski, AJ Allmendinger, Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch.
The race is a key test to see if NASCAR's rules package has succeeded in eliminating – or at least reducing – the dreaded two-car drafts that fans quickly came to hate when they emerged last year.
Kurt Busch is the defending race winner of the event.
Four drivers in tonight's Bud Shootout field had to pull out their backup cars following Friday's practice crash at Daytona International Speedway, and NASCAR decided they'll have to start in the back of the pack as a result.
That means Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski will lose their top-three starting spots, with Kurt Busch (formerly sixth) AJ Allmendinger (ninth) joining them in the rear of the field.
The Bud Shootout lineup was set by a draw last night, and Kyle Busch drew the No. 2 spot (Martin Truex Jr. got the pole). Keselowski was third.
NASCAR considered letting the four drivers maintain their starting positions – which would go against the typical weekend procedure – but ultimately decided that because none of the backup cars had been on track, it could be a safety issue.
The race begins at 8:29 p.m. Eastern and will be televised on FOX.
Here's how the Bud Shootout starting lineup will shape up tonight when the green flag flies (this is unofficial since the statistics don't account for cars dropping to the back):
It's NASCAR race night at Daytona International Speedway and we've got the actual race start time, the starting lineup and some other facts about tonight's exhibition race for you below.
What time does the race start tonight? The Bud Shootout is listed as an 8 p.m. Eastern start time, but it's important to note the green flag won't actually fly until 8:29 p.m. So if you're looking to tune in just as the race is about to start, perhaps flip on your TV at 8:17 – that's when the command to start engines will be given by a few members of the military.
Race name/distance: The Bud Shootout is a non-points invitational featuring the top 20 drivers in the point standings last year, plus any drivers who have won a previous Shootout or a points race at Daytona. Some eligible drivers (such as Trevor Bayne) are not entered due to lack of funding, but there are 25 drivers in the race overall. The race is a 75-lap event (187.5 miles) which features two segments: A 25-lap opening segment, a 10-minute pit stop and a 50-lap run to the finish.
TV and radio: Tonight's race can be seen on FOX. Every Sprint Cup race will be on FOX for the first part of the season. If you aren't near a TV, the radio broadcast can be found on your local Motor Racing Network (MRN) affiliate. Click here to see a list of stations where you can listen (or you can also listen online for free here).
National anthem: The country group Little Big Town will perform a pre-race concert and then sing the national anthem. Next week, the Daytona 500 national anthem will be sung by Train's Pat Monahan.
Tickets: The Bud Shootout typically draws a decent crowd, but it's certainly not sold out. If you want to take a chance on getting last-minute tickets, you'll be OK.
Weather: The unofficial NASCAR weatherman says there's a slight chance of rain showers tonight, but the race should be able to take place. He predicts the temperature will be around 70 degrees for the start.
Last time: In what seems like a lifetime ago, Kurt Busch won the 2011 Bud Shootout for Penske Racing. Obviously, it would be a bigger deal if Busch won this year's race – he's driving for Phoenix Racing now, which has just 18 employees.
Starting lineup for tonight's Bud Shootout at Daytona International Speedway:
Rain remains in the forecast for today's Daytona 500 qualifying practice, but it is less of a threat to interfere with tonight's Budweiser Shootout at Daytona International Speedway.
The front that sparked showers Friday and settled just south of Daytona Beach on Friday night will begin to slide back north during the morning and afternoon. This will cause scattered showers to form and could be a problem during Daytona 500 practice in the afternoon.
Later in the evening for the Bud Shootout, the front will move north of Daytona International Speedway. The threat of rain will begin to diminish through the evening and it should be mostly dry, but there could be a few remaining showers that linger from the afternoon.
On Sunday, as a storm system moves through central Georgia, a cold front associated with this system will slide through Florida. Showers and scattered thunderstorms are possible from Sunday from the morning into the afternoon. This looks like the best chance for rain this weekend and really threatens Sunday afternoon's Daytona 500 qualifying.
11:00 a.m to 1 p.m ET
Sprint Cup practice – Mostly cloudy, some sun, chance of a shower– temp: 70-74
2:00 p.m to 3:45 p.m ET
Sprint Cup practice – Clouds, some sunshine, chance of a shower – temp: 73
8:00 p.m ET
Budweiser Shootout – Patchy clouds, mostly dry, slight chance of a shower – temp: near 70
1:00 p.m ET
Daytona 500 qualifying – Mostly cloudy, chance of a scattered shower – temp: 80
Martin Truex Jr. was the lucky lottery winner at Friday night's Budweiser Shootout draw party, the event where drivers randomly select their starting spots for the season-opening exhibition race at Daytona International Speedway.
Truex was among the final 10 drivers to pick a spot, but came up big when he guessed which bottle held the No. 1 position flag. The Michael Waltrip Racing driver was visibly elated and celebrated his pole with a fist pump.
Kyle Busch will start second, followed by Brad Keselowski – a Miller-sponsored driver who had someone else pick up his bottle of Bud.
Jamie McMurray and David Ragan round out the top five.
Here's the full starting lineup for the 2012 Budweiser Shootout at Daytona:
As it turns out, NASCAR's changes to try and eliminate the two-car drafts have mostly brought back the big pack.
But with the return of the pack comes the return of the "big one" -- and Friday night's first Budweiser Shootout practice at Daytona International Speedway was no exception.
A five-car crash marred the opening practice of the NASCAR season, a wreck that began when Tony Stewart turned Kurt Busch while trying to push-draft.
When Busch spun down the track, he was hit by brother Kyle Busch and the Penske Racing cars of A.J. Allmendinger and Brad Keselowski, as well as Jeff Gordon.
It appears Keselowski, Allmendinger and Kurt Busch may have to use backup cars for Saturday night's Bud Shootout.
"Some guys in front of me got together, and that's just the way it is," Keselowski said. "... It's a shame [we] got caught up in it, but it's better to do it now than next Sunday [in the Daytona 500]."
The good news for fans is the drafting seems to be "kind of back to the way it used to be," Clint Bowyer said.
Matt Kenseth was fastest in the first practice, topping the charts at 201.762 mph with drafting partner Jeff Burton. David Ragan, Jamie McMurray and Ryan Newman rounded out the top five.
The final Bud Shootout practice begins at 6:30 p.m. Eastern.
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