2012 Bud Shootout: NASCAR Drivers Divided On Opinion Of Pack Racing

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."

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