Drivers say racing is fun again

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Carl Edwards gestures to crew members after winning the pole for...

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Carl Edwards gestures to crew members after winning the pole for the Daytona 500 on Sunday. (Brian Blanco, Reuters)

Dean McNulty, QMI AGency

, Last Updated: 8:00 PM ET

Carl Edwards will start on the pole in the Great American Race at Daytona International Speedway, but his fastest lap on Sunday in the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford isn’t the big story at the start of Speedweeks.

Edwards won the pole position with a lap of 194.738 m.p.h. with teammate Greg Biffle a tick behind at 194.087 m.p.h. but the real story is that it will be a whole new day for restrictor plate racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series come next Sunday and the Daytona 500.

For proof check the boxscore of Saturday’s Budweiser Shootout at the big track in north Florida — 25 cars started, only 10 finished on the lead lap.

And most of those 10 looked like refugees from a night of beating and banging at your local short track.

It can be blamed on speed — Edwards was almost nine miles per hour faster than Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s pole pace of last season.

This is a direct result of NASCAR increasing horsepower in the 3,400-pound race cars by increasing the size of the restrictor plates on the new Electronic Fuel Injection systems.

So what we saw in the Shootout was a series of big wrecks that sent cars flying every which way around the 2.5-mile superspeedway.

It also put an end to the monotonous tandem racing that has plagued both Daytona and Talladega over the past two seasons.

In spite of the increase in spectacular crashes almost to a man Cup drivers were near deliriously happy with the end result — a return to pack racing.

Defending Cup champion Tony Stewart, even though he lost the Shootout by a whisker to Kyle Busch, was smiling ear to ear afterward.

“It was definitely a lot more fun and you felt a lot more eager to be engaged in the race this way than in the two-car deal,” he said. “I actually had fun racing at Daytona again which I haven’t had for a while.

“We can literally control our own destiny.”

Even though he ended up a victim of one of the big wrecks, five-time champion Jimmie Johnson agreed that this kind of racing was much more exciting than two-by-two racing.

“The rules package makes the car a lot looser than what we have seen in the past, on top of the fact that you have to be very smart with keeping your car cool,” Johnson said. “But it was fun.”

The most vocal critic of the old system was Dale Earnhardt Jr. who had led the discussion to get NASCAR to bring in a new rules package that would stop the so-called Daytona two-step.

His No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet ended up on the back of a tow truck as well in the Shootout but that didn’t dampen his enthusiasm of the new system.

“I like it better,” he said. “There’s a lot of grip here with that big plate, but that’s pretty much how the racing was before the evolution of the two-car tandem.

“I think we have really made a lot of great improvements and I have more of my destiny in my hands in this type of racing.”

Another former series champion, Matt Kenseth, agreed that what occurred in the Shootout will be good for NASCAR.

“Certainly, if the goal was to get rid of the two-car tandem, it seemed to do that pretty good,” the driver of the No. 17 RFR Ford said. “This is pretty much how the racing used to be, except we’re going a lot faster.”

A relative newcomer to the sport — Australia’s Marcos Ambrose — chipped in that the latest changes make the racing better for both fans and drivers.

“I think all the drivers appreciate it and it’s definitely a lot more fun,” he said. “It’s more entertaining for the fans and more in control for the drivers. Even though we crashed more (in he Shootout), you just feel like you’re in control of your own destiny a little more out there.”

We will leave the last word on the matter to 2004 Cup champion Kurt Busch, who was also a crash victim with his No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet left in a crumpled heap in a last lap wreck.

“It is tough to wreck, but it was awesome.”

Budweiser Shootout

Kyle Busch showed why he is considered among the most talented stock car drivers in the world on Saturday night winning the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona International Speedway.

Coming back from not one, but two near disastrous spins on the 2.5-mile superspeedway, Busch saved the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to catch and pass reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart on a green, white, checkered finish.

To make his win even more impressive, Busch had to start the race from the back after he wrecked his primary car in practice on Friday.

Busch first brush with calamity came on Lap 47 of the 75-lap event when he got turned sideways and nearly into the infield on Turn 2.

And after fighting his way back to the front Busch again was tapped from behind — this time by Jeff Gordon — and sent spinning through Turns 3 and 4.

Others in the 25-car race were not so lucky.

Three big crashes took out more than half of the grid. In fact only 10 cars were on the lead lap at the finish.

Busch said he has some questions about why Gordon spun him on the final scheduled lap.

“I don’t know what the deal was there — I’d like to talk to him about it,” Busch said. “When we came off (Turn) 2, he had me sideways, and then all the way down the backstretch, I was still sideways — left, right, left, right, everywhere — then we were off into 3 and he turned me sideways again. He was on the left side of my bumper instead of the right.”.

Marcos Ambrose recovered from two wrecks to finish third, followed by Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin.

Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards and Juan Pablo Montoya completed the

top 10.


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