Sunday, February 13, 2011

Kurt Busch's Charger Raids NASCAR Victory at 2011 Budweiser Shootout

Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/ Getty Images for NASCAR

With the Daytona 500 still 8 days away, the 2.5 oval called Daytona International Speedway awakes the beachfront Florida town through the roar of stock car engines during the festival called 2011 Daytona Speedweeks. An annual event since 1979, the Budweiser Shootout (originally referred to as the Busch Clash) allows a selected group of drivers and teams from NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to compete in a non-points invitational race. Starting as an event rewarding pole winners of the Cup series, the 2011 edition is open to NASCAR Sprint Cup champions, Chase contenders, winners of the Daytona Cup races and series rookie of the year honourees. With the winner taking a more than $200,000 portion of race's purse, the 2011 Budweiser Shootout pay day is quite impressive based on a relatively short of 75-lap distance (187.5 miles).

Starting with a 25-lap opening segment, the Hendrick Motorsports #88 Chevrolet Impala of Dale Earnhardt Jr led the field to green after drawing the 2011 Budweiser Shootout pole position. Without leading the first lap, Earnhardt Jr was quickly overhauled by Tony Stewart's #14 Chevrolet. The combination of the new Daytona International Speedway pavement and the small revisions to this year's Sprint Cup stock car began to shape up a very unique style of racing. Instead of competitors merged in larger drafting lines, the strategy for the 2011 Budweiser Shootout was for drivers to pair up in tractor-trailer style racing. Availing an increase in the number of passing opportunities, 12 lead changes through the first 25-lap segment saw Dale Earnahrdt Jr, Kyle Busch and Jeff Burton madly dicing for the early lead. Despite of higher race speeds of the NASCAR Sprint Cup cars (averaging 196.587 miles per hours in the one segment), the first 25 laps were incident-free.

Photo Credit: John Harrelson/ Getty Images for NASCAR

After a 10-minute intermission, the enthusiasm for the Budweiser Shootout's second 50-lap segment was fueled through by the first segment's competition. Without even tire issues being presented after the cars appeared on pit road for pit stops, drivers raved on the new surface and the brand of Sprint Cup racing that has been created. However, while the first 25 laps flew like clockwork, the mood of the Budweiser Shootout's second stage would show change early.

On lap 29 of 75, the Daytona superstretch would play host to the end of the rather tranquil stock car dance with a 6-car wreck. Started when Dale Earnhardt Jr lifted after pushing the #18 Toyota of Kyle Busch, Earnhardt's car entered into a close pack with the #78 Chevrolet of Regan Smith and Carl Edwards' #99 Ford. Gaining a momentum advantage on the superstretch, Edwards prepared to slide between Smith and Earnhardt. Not only was the passing space very limited for the #99 Ford, the spot naturally closed up. As Carl Edwards continued to move forward, he made contact with Earnhardt Jr who then caught Regan Smith in the cross reaction crash. The #20 Toyota of Joey Logano, Juan Pablo Montoya's #42 Chevrolet and the #97 Toyota of Kevin Conway also suffered race-ending damage.

While the two-car dances appeared to be playing big benefits through both segments of the Budweiser Shootout, two cautions in the second segment showed how this technique can go wrong. On lap 37, the #5 Chevrolet of Mark Martin and the #18 Toyota of Kyle Busch were grouped together but Martin pushed Busch hard through turn 1 spinning around the Toyota. Making damaging contact with each other and the Daytona wall, both cars were forced to retire. A similar accident also occurred 12 laps after in turn 4 with Michael Waltrip's #15 Toyota coming on the worst end of bump-drafting from Tony Stewart.      

After leading for a race-leading 12 lap continuous stint, Ryan Newman's #39 Chevrolet was out front receiving a valuable push from the #11 Toyota of Denny Hamlin. Challenging the pairing was a second tractor-trailer group containing the #22 Dodge of Kurt Busch and 2010 Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray driving the #1 Chevrolet.

On the final lap, Kurt Busch attempted to close alongside the Newman/Hamlin pack on the outside through the superstretch but ran out of momentum allowing for what appeared to be just two more corners for the #39 of Ryan Newman to sail to victory. Coming down the final race stretch from the fourth corner, Newman's victory would be foiled not by the #22 or #1 cars but by his drafting partner the #11 Toyota of Denny Hamlin. Using slingshot acceleration, Hamlin's Toyota dived low on Newman's Chevrolet passing coming to the checkered flag. By breaking the drafting partnership, both the #39 as well as #11 cars were vulnerable to the paired by vehicles of Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray. At the line, Denny Hamlin's #11 Toyota crossed ahead of a fast-charging Kurt Busch but it was evident Hamlin advanced his position by dropping below the yellow line (a no-no for NASCAR superspeedway racing). Admitting that he had to drop below the yellow line or risk running into Ryan Newman, Hamlin's foul allowed the #22 Penske Racing Dodge of Kurt Busch to be recognized as the 2011 Budweiser Shootout winner. Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle rounded out the Daytona race's top-5 unofficially kicking off the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.

Photo Credit: Nick Laham/ Getty Images

The only Dodge Charger in the 2011 edition of the Daytona International Speedway event, the #22 won in its first outing with the newly-acquired Shell/Pennzoil sponsorship. With Kurt Busch triumphing at the end, 28 lead changes among 9 drivers made this one of the most competitive Budweiser Shootout races on record.

2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup
Budweiser Shootout
Race Results

Pos #  | Car # | Driver  | Sponsor | Car Make

  1. 22 Kurt Busch Shell / Pennzoil Dodge
  2. 1 Jamie McMurray Bass Pro Shops / Tracker Boats Chevrolet
  3. 39 Ryan Newman Wix Filters Chevrolet
  4. 48 Jimmie Johnson Lowe's / Kobalt Tools Chevrolet
  5. 16 Greg Biffle 3M Ford
  6. 24 Jeff Gordon Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet
  7. 29 Kevin Harvick Budweiser Chevrolet
  8. 31 Jeff Burton Caterpillar Chevrolet
  9. 33 Clint Bowyer Cheerios / Hamburger Helper Chevrolet
  10. 47 Bobby Labonte Reese Towpower / Highland Toyota
  11. 14 Tony Stewart Mobil 1 / Office Depot Chevrolet
  12. 11 Denny Hamlin FedEx Express Toyota
  13. 17 Matt Kenseth Crown Royal Black Ford
  14. 64 Derrike Cope Sta-Bil Toyota
  15. 15 Michael Waltrip NAPA Auto Parts Toyota
  16. 18 Kyle Busch M&M's Toyota
  17. 5 Mark Martin Chevrolet
  18. 20 Joey Logano Home Depot Toyota
  19. 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. National Guard / AMP Energy Chevrolet
  20. 42 Juan Pablo Montoya Target Chevrolet
  21. 99 Carl Edwards Scotts ez Seed Ford
  22. 78 Regan Smith Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet
  23. 97 Kevin Conway Extenze Toyota
  24. 4 Kasey Kahne Red Bull Toyota

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