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Shootout Hints At Exciting Days Ahead

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 7 2010
Kevin Harvick celebrates being top gun in Saturday night's Shootout. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Kevin Harvick celebrates being top gun in Saturday night's Shootout. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer

Daytona Beach, Fla. – Kevin Harvick crossed the finish line first in his Richard Childress Racing Chevy, but a faster, braver NASCAR appeared to be the winner in the season-opening Budweiser Shootout.

An off-season decision by NASCAR officials to turn NASCAR racing back into a contact sport and a larger carburetor restrictor plate kept the competition close and furious in the exhibition race on the high banks of Daytona dedicated to a big purse and no points.

“I don’t know how fast the cars were going, but it felt fast,” said Harvick of the race which followed considerably faster speeds in qualifying for the Daytona 500.

“I thought it was some pretty exciting racing,” said runner-up Kasey Kahne, who endorsed the new era. “I was on edge from the time it went green.”

Jamie McMurray, who finished third in his first race in an Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevy, also endorsed the new Daytona package that includes curved endplates on the rear wings and a rear deck fin, both of which add some drag – but not enough to overcome the larger restrictor plate.

“You’re able to get really big runs,” said McMurray. That occured when cars stalled in the draft when side-by-side, enabling the trailing cars to make up ground quickly.

“The racing is not dramatically different,” said McMurray. “You just get these tremendous bursts of speed. I like the package that they have.”

But just how much drivers appreciated the close quarters racing and the ability to police themselves when it came to bump-drafting was somewhat dependent on where they were when the smoke cleared after a green-white-checker finished made it only as far as Turn 3. That’s where Jeff Gordon’s Hendrick Motorsports Chevy lifted off the rear of Greg Biffle’s Roush Fenway Racing Ford. The led to an eight-car pile-up as Harvick and Kahne headed to the checkered flag.

“I got to Greg and I was just pushing and pushing and pushing,” said Gordon. “I almost had to move to the inside of him. He kind of closed the door there and I was just pushing. We went into the corner and he just spun right out. I don’t know if he had a tire go down or just the fact that he was on old tires and couldn’t take that kind of a push.”

Despite the crash, Gordon endorsed the new package of the curved end plates on the wings and the larger restrictor plate under carburetors, which enabled drivers to catch up more quickly if they had problems in traffic. “The cars were pretty out of control, which was fun at times.” said Gordon.  “You had to really drive them. But we’ve got to get our car handling a little bit better and the plate was good though. I liked the plate.”

It was fitting that a race with so much contact ended under yellow. “I’ve spent more time riding in the ambulance than on the track,” dead-panned Kurt Busch, who was one of several crash victims in practice for the Shootout and then crashed again when his Penske Racing Dodge was turned into the tri-oval grass by the Hendrick Motorsports Chevy of Mark Martin midway in the race.

Harvick, who missed practice on Thursday due to illness, took the lead by diving from the outside into the low groove on the green-white-checker restart, passing leader Biffle’s Roush Fenway Racing entry and cutting in front of Kahne’s Richard Petty Motorsports Ford. “We didn’t have our gearing quite right so I knew I needed to roll good on the re-start,” said Harvick, who was behind Biffle in the high groove after the Ford driver chose the outside lane in the double-file re-start.

Harvick led five times for 21 laps, but ended up third after coming into the pits prior to the final re-start for right side tires. That proved decisive once he was in the low groove and got alongside Biffle with Kahne behind him. He dragged the brake to stay alongside the Ford. “I wanted to maintain side-by-side with Biffle because I knew I ‘d have an advantage on him in Turn 3 with tires,” said Harvick.

It was not clear what happend from Biffle’s perspective. He wasn’t available for comment afterwards.

Harvick’s decision to come down the pit road – followed by most of the field – proved to be the winning strategy even though it dropped him to third place behind leader Biffle and Kahne, who both stayed out of the pits. “You’d think more would stay out,” said Kahne. “And then I saw the whole field come in.”

The Roush Fenway Ford of Carl Edwards led the most laps, including all 25 of the first segment. But eventually the consistency of his handling went away, especially after Tony Stewart took the lead on the 44th lap and dropped the No. 99 into traffic.

From there, Stewart, Harvick, Biffle and McMurray, who led twice for two laps, traded the lead.

Among those who missed the set-up were Kyle Busch, who finished fourth after the big crash took out eight cars, and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished 11th.

“I just missed it,” said Busch of the set-up on his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. “I’ve got some studying to do over the new few days.

Earnhardt Jr. was not happy with his Hendrick Motorsports Chevy used for the Shootout after qualifying on the front row for the Daytona 500 earlier in the day.

“We were not very fast in practice with this car and it was not very strong in the race. We’ll just try to bring a better chassis to the next Shootout.”

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 7 2010
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