|Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR|
By Shaun Burke
When the smoke settled after the 2011 Budweiser Shootout, it was Kurt Busch putting Shell/Pennzoil into the Gatorade Victory Lane for the third year in a row. Meanwhile, Denny Hamlin, the driver who crossed the finish line first was relegated to a twelfth place finish after dipping below the yellow line to pass Ryan Newton on the last lap.
“I just made a mistake. That yellow line is there to protect us. I just chose to take the safer route” said Hamlin.
As Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the green flag for the 33rd Budweiser Shootout, the near three month wait for NASCAR fans was over.
By the time the drivers hit the backstretch on the first lap; the two car tandems were already breaking out and foreshadowed what the next 75 laps would look like.
The first 25 lap segment was run caution free. After the segment, Jeff Gordon exclaimed on his radio “Wooo, Jesus that’s crazy”. Many other drivers were expressing similar thoughts on their radio as they were glad to get a chance to catch their breath. Jeff Burton led Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson at the of the first segment.
The ten minute break allowed teams to get some feedback from their drivers and make some adjustments to the cars.
The second segment would not be as clean as the first segment as the “big one” occurred on lap 28. As Dale Earnhardt was falling back on the inside line on the backstretch, the car or Regan Smith drifted down the track into Carl who clipped the right rear of Dale Earnhardt Jr. After all the carnage was over, a total of six cars were done for the night: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Regan Smith, Joey Logano, Juan Montoya and Kevin Conway.
The cars restarted on lap 35 and it only took one lap for the next crash. Mark Martin was pushing Kyle Busch going into turn three when the #18 car snapped loose. Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon narrowly missed being collected from the spinning cars as they jumped down the on the apron. After the race, Ryan Newman thanked Jeff Gordon for pushing him through that situation and keeping him out of the wreck. Gordon had this to say about the accident: “We’re getting to point where bumpers are beat in, and we’re starting to hook guys.”
The next caution came on lap 49 when Tony Stewart turned the 15 of Michael Waltrip in an accident that looked exactly like the one between Busch and Martin.
The final restart of the race took place on lap 52 with Jimmie Johnson leading. As the temperature continued to cool and the cars started getting faster, the Richard Childress Racing cars began complaining about hitting the rev limiter on the car. As a result the RCR cars and those cars drafting began losing ground on the front group. As the white flag waived, it was a four car race as fifth place Jimmie Johnson was over two seconds behind the leader.
On the backstretch, it appeared Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray showed their hand too early and were going to finish a respectable third and fourth; however, as the cars came to the line, Denny Hamlin pulled low to make a pass on Ryan Newman. This slowed both cars enough to allow Kurt Busch to jump high on the outside. The move worked perfectly for Hamlin if only he could have kept his car off the apron. In the end, it was Kurt Busch doing donuts. “I wanted to give those guys a push hard getting into Turn 1 and I never got to them.” said Busch. “Then my game plan changed to take whatever I could get. I knew the 11 was going to split away from the 39. I was hoping he would do it soon enough. It worked out in our favor at the end because McMurray stayed with us. “
After the race, winner Kurt Busch had this to say: “What an amazing win. To get to victory lane for Shell/Pennzoil is incredible. This Dodge Charger was fast and I have to thank my “teammate” Jamie McMurray so much. What an unbelievable experience.”