To the Point: In a wild season-opening shocker, rookie Denny Hamlin held off veteran challenges by Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Jimmie Johnson in a green-white-checkered finish to win the 28th annual Budweiser Shootout.
Who Should Have Won: Tony Stewart. To be honest, I should rename this category "Who Could Have Won but Chose Not To" based on how much Stewart protected teammate Denny Hamlin in the race’s closing stages. Although he did shoot out to the lead one time with 4 laps to go, Stewart’s primary purpose in life the final 20 laps was to beat and bang with every car around him to ensure Denny got to Victory Lane. Luckily for Hamlin, he succeeded.
Five Questions You Should be Asking After the Race Weekend:
1) Wasn’t that the wildest Bud Shootout in years?
In recent years, the season-opening exhibition race has been about as exciting as watching paint dry. Not so this year. With a fleet of younger, aggressive drivers in the field, the race featured a little bit of everything: Wild three and four-wide racing, scary wrecks, questionable NASCAR officiating, pit strategy, and a green-white-checkered finish.
2) Are we headed for another poor season of NASCAR officiating all over again?
Sadly, early indications are"¦yes. Carl Edward’s penalty for dipping underneath the yellow line was absolutely the wrong call. In case you missed it, Edwards dove low to miss the cars of Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch coming out of Turn 4, who had suddenly put on the brakes in order to make a green-flag pit stop. Caught off guard, Edwards had two choices: punt the 48 and the 5, or dive low on the apron, a move which COST him 4 to 5 spots. Still, NASCAR claimed he improved his position diving below the yellow line, so a frustrated Edwards found himself with a pass-through penalty and no shot at winning the race.
3) What the heck was Kyle Busch thinking?
The younger Busch has admitted restrictor plate racing is not his strong suit, and he proved it Sunday with some reckless driving. Between nearly knocking Mark Martin into the wall, nudging Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and putting a bonsai-style block on Tony Stewart, "Wild Kyle" really didn’t have any friends left by the end of the race"¦a solid explanation for his 15th-place finish at the back of the draft.
4) Was Sunday’s ridiculous TV schedule a sign of how NBC will treat the sport during 2006?
It appears that’s the case. On Sunday, to watch Daytona 500 qualifying all the way through the Bud Shootout, you had to hop from NBC for three hours, to SPEED for an hour (which many people don’t have), to TNT for the Shootout. Not only that, but the first hour of NASCAR qualifying was blacked out in favor of a political program in New York City, and NBC chose to leave NASCAR qualifying to SPEED at a very critical moment, just before Elliott Sadler’s run to the pole. I know the Olympics are going on, but this is not a good sign.
5) Has anyone put themselves out there as the car to beat next Sunday?
For the first time in several years, the answer to that question appears to be: no one. Hamlin was strong in the Shootout, but he appeared to benefit a little too much from his Tony Stewart bodyguard behind him. Kevin Harvick was fast in practice, then disappointed in qualifying and blew an engine in the Shootout. Ditto for the Yates cars, who had horrible Shootout performances after qualifying 3rd and 4th for the 500. Meanwhile, surprise polesitter Jeff Burton has a history of struggling at Daytona, as do the Roush teams, while the Hendrick cars have already dealt with a blown motor, oil cooler, and a few wrecked race cars. Seems this year’s 500 is a wide-open deal.
Denny Hamlin – Not only was Hamlin the first rookie ever to win the Shootout, but he punched an entry ticket into the race for every future season of his Nextel Cup career.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – Second wasn’t a Shootout win, but the 8 car was same ol’, same ol’ at Daytona.
Scott Riggs – Riggs’ 4th-place finish was a huge morale boost after breaking down in Daytona 500 qualifying earlier in the day, forcing them to have to race in through the 150s. Riggs also was involved in an early Shootout wreck, and needed a Lucky Dog Pass just to get back in contention.
Ken Schrader – A 14th-place finish wasn’t all that great, but leading 18 of the first 20 laps was a huge surprise after starting from the pole. Showed the Wood Brothers could contend in their 150-mile qualifier.
Brian Vickers – Everybody’s "Cinderella" story for 2006 had himself a rough start, at the center of a lap 15 wreck that hurt the cars of Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, and most of all, Vickers himself, sending him to the garage and a last-place finish.
Kevin Harvick – After a strong weekend in practice, Harvick appeared to be the car to beat in both qualifying and the Shootout, but he was never a factor Sunday, qualifying outside the Top 5 for the 500 and blowing an engine before the first segment was complete. Harvick finished 20th.
Carl Edwards – To say it was a rough day for Edwards was an understatement. He was penalized three times, twice for going below the yellow line, and found himself called to the NASCAR trailer after the race for publicly stating he would not adhere to a NASCAR black flag. Not only that, but his status as "Star of the Future" seemed to be immediately seized by future star Denny Hamlin. 16th place, a lap behind the leaders, was certainly not the finish this team hoped for.
Bill Elliott – A darkhorse pick to win the Shootout, Elliott was never a factor, failing to lead a lap and finishing 12th towards the back of the lead draft.
As the Bud Shootout is an exhibition event, no points were given out.
"I really felt confident as long as he (Tony Stewart) was behind me. He came over the radio and told my spotter for me to just run my line and he’s got everybody covered"¦" Denny Hamlin
"Somebody is going to die at Daytona and Talladega with what we’re doing. I hope I’m not around when it happens." Tony Stewart
"Well, I felt like we had the fastest car and I haven’t felt that way in a while, so it’s a really good start for us." Jamie McMurray
"I was real upset about the penalty (for diving below the yellow line) and I didn’t want to pull in. Anyway, NASCAR asked me to come up there (to the trailer after the race), and they spent a great amount of time and energy explaining to me their position. I totally understand their position. They understand my position. The call was made, and we’re just gonna go on. That’s all we can do." Carl Edwards
The 58 drivers attempting to qualify for the 500 will divide up into two 29-car 150-mile qualifying races for Thursday, with the 48th annual Daytona 500 scheduled for next Sunday afternoon.
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