Kurt Busch claimed victory in the Budweiser Shootout as the new Daytona surface generated a completely new style of racing at the 2.5-mile oval. The Penske driver came out on top of what turned out to be a very different Daytona race, dominated by two-car drafts racing against each other instead of the usual big pack of cars seen in the past at restrictor-plate races.
Busch started the final lap in third place while being pushed by Earnhardt Ganassi's Jamie McMurray. The pair hooked up and went by Ryan Newman on the outside coming out of the final turn, as the Stewart Haas driver tried to remain ahead of Denny Hamlin, who had pushed him for most of the final segment of the 75-lap event.
Although Hamlin was able to cross the line in first place, he did so after overtaking Newman by driving below the double-yellow line at the bottom of the track, which meant he was penalized and demoted to 12th place, as the last car on the lead lap. The move handed Busch his first victory in the event, the second for team boss Roger Penske.
"I have to thank my 'teammate' Jamie McMurray so much," said Busch while celebrating his win in the non-points event. "What an unbelievable experience, this two-car draft. I had no idea what to expect going in. I was just going to take it one lap at a time and seeing how it turned out. I wanted to learn as the race went on how the car raced. McMurray was the man tonight. He stayed with us, he stayed true.
"On the final lap I wanted to give those guys a push hard getting into Turn 1 but I never got to them. Then my game plan changed to take whatever I could get. I knew [Hamlin] was going to split away from [Newman]. I was hoping he would do it soon enough.
"It worked out in our favor at the end, only because McMurray stayed with us."
The first segment of the event was incident-free, drivers racing in two-car tandems as soon as the green flag waved. Richard Childress Racing's Jeff Burton, pushed by his teammate Kevin Harvick, led the most laps in the first part of the event and crossed the finish line up front when the yellow flags waved to signal the end of the first 25-lap portion of the race.
Drivers pitted for fuel, tires and some for setup changes to start the final 50-lap segment, which proved to be much more eventful. Only four laps in, Carl Edwards and Dale Earnhardt Jr made contact in the middle of the pack, with Regan Smith, Joey Logano, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kevin Conway getting caught up in the multi-car pile-up.
Only three laps after the green flag waved again Kyle Busch got turned around by Mark Martin while the pair tried to gain momentum in their two-car draft entering Turn 1. A similar incident caused the final caution with 26 laps remaining, when Michael Waltrip ended up spinning while bump-drafting with Tony Stewart.
Once the green flag waved for the final time 14 laps from the chequered flag, two-time event winner Harvick lost the draft and would eventually be unable to get back to the front after spending most of the race close to the lead.
The two-car tandems of Busch-McMurray and Newman-Hamlin were able to open a two-second gap to their closest pursuers as they gained more momentum every lap, eventually putting the rest of the field out of contention for victory.
Despite NASCAR decreasing cooling while trying to limit the number of laps a car could push another before water temperatures soared for the one bumping in the two-car formation, McMurray was actually able to stay behind Busch for the last 14 laps of green flag racing.
Speeds in the draft went beyond 206mph averages for some, while many ran well over 9000 rpm on their engines for long stretches while keeping their momentum to stay at the sharp end of the field.
Besides those involved in incidents, Kasey Kahne also retired from the event after the engine on his Red Bull Toyota failed only seven laps into the race.
Pos Driver Car Laps
1. Kurt Busch Dodge 75
2. Jamie McMurray Chevrolet 75
3. Ryan Newman Chevrolet 75
4. Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 75
5. Greg Biffle Ford 75
6. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 75
7. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 75
8. Jeff Burton Chevrolet 75
9. Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 75
10. Bobby Labonte Toyota 75
11. Tony Stewart Chevrolet 75
12. Denny Hamlin Toyota 75
13. Matt Kenseth Ford 74
14. Derrike Cope Toyota 73
15. Michael Waltrip Toyota 47
16. Kyle Busch Toyota 41
17. Mark Martin Chevrolet 36
18. Joey Logano Toyota 27
19. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet 27
20. Juan Pablo Montoya Chevrolet 27
21. Carl Edwards Ford 27
22. Regan Smith Chevrolet 27
23. Kevin Conway Toyota 26
24. Kasey Kahne Toyota 7