DAYTONA — NASCAR can change the rules all they want but when the Sprint Cup Gatorade Twin 150s got underway Thursday it took exactly one lap for the dreaded two-by-two racing to rear its ugly head.
Kurt Busch, in the No. 22 Penske Racing Dodge, and Jeff Burton, in the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, took advantage of the Daytona two step to claim victories in their respective 150-mile races.
NASCAR got what they wanted on speed — cars were slowed to about 195 m.p.h. from the 205 m.p.h. they were hitting in the Budweiser Shootout last Saturday.
But even with smaller restrictor plates and smaller air vents ordered by NASCAR, the two-car shuffle was the order of the day in both 150s.
With his win Busch is now on the cusp of a first ever sweep by anyone at Daytona after winning the Budweiser Shootout last Saturday.
A victory Sunday in the Daytona 500 would give him three wins in NASCAR’s biggest racing week of the year.
And as a reward he will start on the pole in the 500 as a result of Dale Earnhardt Jr. going to the back of the grid after he wrecked his pole-winning No. 88 Chevrolet during practice Wednesday.
“This is sweet,” Busch said.
The tangled web that NASCAR wove with rule changes on the run leading up to Thursday’s races in an effort to slow the cars down Daytona International Speedway’s new pavement, however, played havoc with the drivers in both 150s.
“There’s so many thoughts going through your mind,” Busch said. “What are the two front row guys going to do? Who’s been teamed up all day? Who’s been there trying to get to their buddy?
“There are so many different scenarios, it’s almost like a roulette table spinning and you have wait to see if the marble land on your number. And today it was our number.”
Busch said that one thing he took away from Thursday’s win was that the team had to learn from the experience if it wants to keep the momentum going into Sunday’s big race.
“You’re kind of flying by the seat of your pants ’cause you haven’t put those ideas into an actual experience just yet,” he said.
In spite of all the learning and all the changes, Busch admitted he likes the way everything has come together for him and the No. 22 Dodge team and he wouldn’t change a thing.
“I love this style,” he said. “We’re in Victory Lane and there’s no way I’d change it.”
Burton said the most difficult thing he thinks is going to transfer from the Gatorade Duel is finding a partner to dance with on Sunday.
“You have to find a partner, preferably a teammate,” Burton said. “(Thursday) where ever (RCR teammate) Clint Bowyer went we went and where ever we went, he went.”
Burton, though, said that as difficult as that was in the 150s it is going to be twice as hard on Sunday.
“With 24 cars it was hard, I can’t imagine how hard it is going to be find a teammate or partner with 43 cars out there we are going to have a lot more cars going for the 500 win and it is going to be wild.”
Bill Elliott and J.J. Yeley raced their way into the Daytona 500, in the first race and Dave Blaney and Brian Keselowski did the same in the second race. And because Elliott won’t have to fall back on his qualifying time, Michael Waltrip also will race on Sunday, based on his fourth-best qualifying speed among those not locked into the 500.