NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2011 Bud Shootout at Daytona Race Recap

The Key Moment – On the final lap, Denny Hamlin made an ill-considered move to dip (well, hell, actually he dove headfirst) below the yellow line coming to the stripe, cementing the win for Kurt Busch.

In a Nutshell – I haven’t heard of a two-by-two procession like this since Noah loaded the ark.

Dramatic Moment – Well, four cars racing off of turn 4 to the checkered flag was pretty intense. Too bad only one of them was racing.

A close runner-up: Waiting to see if the back straight lights were going to go out again Saturday as they did in Friday night’s second round of practice for the race. At the time, four cars were passing by at full speed, locked up at over 200 mph before getting blinded. Even a normally droll Matt Kenseth was discussing taping flashlights to the hood of his car just in case.

What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week

Are we due another 11th-hour rules change this week reducing the size of the restrictor plates? NASCAR officialdom tends to brown their drawers when speeds exceed 200 mph at Daytona or Talladega in particular and we’re well north of that now; on Saturday night, Michael Waltrip reportedly turned a lap in excess of 206 mph. The rules change to limit cooling ducts to the engine was supposed to limit the amount of time one driver could push the car in front of him without overheating, but there was no evidence of that working Saturday night. A major, last minute rules change isn’t unprecedented in this former sport; remember the “no bump-drafting” rule instituted at the drivers’ meeting at Talladega in the fall of ’09?

Editor’s Note: As of Sunday night, NASCAR did institute two new rules which, despite not involving the restrictor plates should still curb the use of these two-car drafts going forward. Now, the maximum size of the air inlet for the cooling system will be 2½ inches tall by 20 inches wide, while the pressure release valve on the water system will be set at 33 pounds per square inch. Combined, these changes will (in theory) keep the cars from being able to lock together in the fashion they did Saturday night by causing them to overheat. Stay tuned…

OK, I just don’t get it. NASCAR schedules a major four-day test on Daytona’s new track surface this winter. The teams come and dutifully participate. Some outfits, unhappy with their results, take the test data, go back to the shop, and build a new car to fit the rules and the new track surface. In the case of the No. 48 bunch, they built not one but two new cars looking for speed given the new reality of the two-car draft being fastest. Then, the teams actually arrive at Daytona and NASCAR decides it’s time to change the cooling package on the cars, the sort of change that would usually lead to a flurry of wind tunnel tests. So why hold a test at all? If NASCAR folks didn’t know that speeds with the new cars and surface were going to be north of 200 mph, they must have been partying with J.C. France during the test.

There were nothing but raves about the new smooth and grippy track surface at DIS. It would seem that Goodyear has brought the perfect tire for the new surface as well. But I can’t help but feel that an opportunity was squandered here. While they had the old asphalt – which looked like the parking lot of an old steel mill abandoned generations ago – torn up they could have lowered the banking ten degrees, dropping the speeds and helping ensure no cars could get airborne enough to enter the grandstands.

Well, if they haven’t figured out how to sell tickets again (and to be fair, there looked to be a pretty fair crowd on hand Saturday night for the Shootout) Daytona management has at least found a way to make the stands look fuller. The multi-color lower grandstand seats give an impression at speed that those empty seats are full.

Give credit where credit is due. This year’s iteration of the Car of Sorrow “stock car” with its new front end does, in fact, look more like a car. But it still doesn’t look very “stock.”

OK, so where do you and your buds stand on this “new” form of racing at Daytona? (That’s what the comments section below this article is for.) I’m not completely sold on this two-by-two form of racing, armed with a closing rate of 20 mph+ on a single car ahead but I like it better than the big packs of the last few years where driver skill and car prep had little to do with the outcome of the race. On the flip side, Monte Dutton of the Gaston Gazette declared Saturday night’s race a “farce” and went on to say it was a “stupid ending to a stupid race.” I’ve got a ton of respect for Dutton as a straight talker. So is this new formation flying better or worse than what we had, gentle readers?

I am not the brightest bulb on the tree but I don’t get it. Sure, it’s nice Daytona has lights, but the Bud Shootout is held on Saturday evening, a traditionally slow ratings night, when a majority of fans could arrange to be home Saturday afternoon to watch it in daylight. In comparison, the Twin 150 qualifying races, typically two of the more competitive races of the year are run on Thursday afternoon when a majority of fans at home will be at work. Even a lot of those traveling to the race won’t have arrived yet…

Well, it didn’t take long for Darrell Waltrip to find a way to earn a big check from his friends at Toyota with the annoying new “tattoo” commercial. Of course, the Toyota folks realized if he shoots a commercial with them, DW will be plugging the “Furrin’” cars incessantly for the whole FOX portion of the season rather than showing any bare modicum of journalistic detachment. But if I were DW, I’d get what looks like a melanoma beside his left eye in the commercial looked at before too long.

To help fans with brand identification with the “universal” new cars, manufacturers might want to quadruple the thickness of the carmaker logos on the front bumper. With the new package, they’re worn away to illegible in 10 laps. By the way, it’s good to see the rules change has also added fake foglight decals to the front of Cup cars. Do they have a fake foglight switch decal on the dash, too?

Doesn’t ESPN love us anymore? They’ve consigned this spring’s Richmond Nationwide Series race to SPEED so they can cover the NFL draft. The draft? Come on, it isn’t even a game.

It looks worse on some color cars than others, but this new apparently mandatory lime green “American Ethanol” logo around the car’s fuel fillers just isn’t attractive. As it is, it’s been pretty well proven that using corn to produce ethanol takes more energy than it produces and is increasing global hunger plus the national debt with all the subsidies for the industry. (Has the AARP gotten that memo yet, Jeff?)

The latest troubling trend in the battle between wealthy Cup teams and those struggling to get by? Hendrick teams this year will bring two full pit crews per car, a first and second-string crew, just in case the “A” team falters like they did several times last year for the No. 48 bunch. This way, they don’t actually have to swap crews like the Nos. 48 and 24 did last year in the Chase. Didn’t NASCAR try to cut costs by limiting the number of credentials any one team was issued for individual events? At least maybe it gives all those unemployed catch can guys a new lease on a job…

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Hamlin had a second-place finish in hand but took the chance going for the win and strayed below the yellow line. I do have a ton of respect for his decision not to try to force Ryan Newman high, which likely would have ended up with a car in the catchfence. Hopefully Brad Keselowski was watching.

Kasey Kahne’s first full season with Red Bull Racing got off to an inauspicious start with mechanical woes long before the first intermission.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. started from the pole (I find it laughable some folks say he “won the pole” by correctly choosing a red bottle) but his night ended early after losing an argument over real estate with Carl Edwards and Regan Smith.

Tony Stewart survived his wreck with Waltrip relatively unscathed but suffered radio problems all evening that kept him from making a late-race charge. He wound up 11th.

Waltrip’s presumably last Speedweeks as a driver got off to a slow start after contact from Stewart destroyed the No. 15 car in the second segment. Speaking of Waltrip, I hear he’s written a book. I didn’t know the iPad accepted crayon input.

Kyle Busch’s car was clearly one of the fastest but he got turned by a repentant Mark Martin. It’s not often Martin wrecks out a competitor.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Bobby Gerhart won his seventh ARCA race at Daytona Saturday afternoon. To put that in perspective, Gerhart has won eight ARCA races total in his career. And you’re wondering why an 18-year-old kid was afraid to try to pass him?

Kurt Busch seemed more surprised than anybody he’d won the race.

The Roush Camp in particular and the Ford camp in general haven’t had much to cheer about so far this Speedweeks, but Greg Biffle’s fifth-place finish in the Shootout and Trevor Bayne’s third-place qualifying effort in the Wood Brothers car might indicate things could get better for the Blue Ovals later this week.

Worth Noting

  • While Kevin Harvick missed scoring his third consecutive Shootout win, Busch carried the Shell/Pennzoil colors into Victory Lane a third time.
  • Jamie McMurray was the only driver to score top-five finishes in the 2010 and 2011 Shootouts.

What’s the Points? – This race is pointless… and increasingly so each year.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic) — I’ll give it two cans of Bud. It was an intriguing race even if it wasn’t a particularly good one.

Next Up – The Daytona 150 Qualifiers run Thursday, and based on Saturday night it ought to be rather tense with the new rules package. So they say Chevy (and even GM brass say it’s OK to use that abbreviated form of “Chevrolet” again) “Runs Deep?” Let’s just hope they don’t fly high when crossed up in a wreck heading to the checkered flag.

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