Shootout win no accident

Kyle Busch eludes wreck, Stewart

Roush Fenway driver Greg Biffle ran a pair of blistering laps to set the standard during practice sessions for the Daytona 500. Roush Fenway driver Greg Biffle ran a pair of blistering laps to set the standard during practice sessions for the Daytona 500. (Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / February 19, 2012
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - The front fender of his No. 18 Toyota wrinkled from two spinouts he survived in last night’s crash-marred Budweiser Shootout, Kyle Busch pulled a last-lap slingshot move to outsprint Tony Stewart in an exciting green-white-checkered finish by 0.013 seconds, the closest margin in Shootout history.

“I was right behind him when he had the deal in [Turn] 1 and 2,’’ Stewart said. “He had to catch it three times before he saved it. You get 3,400 pounds moving like that, to catch it once was pretty big, to get away from it and catch it again was big, and the third time was big.

“That’s three big moments in one corner and he never quit driving,’’ Stewart marveled. “There’s a lot of guys that wouldn’t have caught that.’’

Busch was one of four drivers who were forced to start from the rear of the 25-car field after Stewart triggered a costly wreck in the first Shootout practice Friday.

“I don’t know how many times I spun out and didn’t [crash],’’ Busch said. “It was fun to drive when I wasn’t getting turned around.’’

After tandem-styled racing dominated last year’s restrictor-plate races at Daytona and Talladega, NASCAR took measures to bunch the field by implementing rule changes aimed at manipulating water temperatures of engines by reducing the air flow through smaller openings in the radiator grill. It resulted in tighter racing, but also produced three big crashes, the scariest of which involved eight lead cars on Lap 75.

Jeff Gordon triggered the incident when got behind Busch’s left rear fender between Turns 3 and 4 and caused him to spin. Gordon, however, suffered the worst of it when his car turned into the wall and collected the cars of Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson before he got turned on the driver’s side. Gordon skidded down the banking and onto a paved runoff area at the exit of Turn 4, doing 2 1/2 barrel rolls before coming to a rest on the driver’s side. Gordon climbed out unhurt.

“The difference now is we’re still bump-drafting, but we just can’t do it for long periods of time. So now we’re doing it in packs,’’ Gordon said. “You go down the straightaway and you push a little bit.

“We have less down force so cars are moving around a lot and you have to be real careful with how you push and where you push.’’

Biffle eyes pole

Greg Biffle looks to be the odds-on favorite to win the pole for the 54th Daytona 500 after the Roush Fenway Racing driver swept both Sprint Cup practice sessions in preparation for today’s time trials.

Biffle’s No. 16 Ford Fusion pushed the pace in both sessions, establishing the standard with a 193.395 mile-per-hour tour of the 2.5-mile trioval on his eighth and final lap in the first practice yesterday morning. He followed that up in the afternoon with a blistering lap of 193.241 on his second of five laps.

“I feel really good,’’ Biffle said, when asked about his pole chances. “It’s a testament to how hard these guys have worked because here the driver really doesn’t do anything in qualifying. So it’s [crew chief] Matt [Puccia] and all these guys on the team who work at the track and the shop. They’ve worked really hard on these cars and the motors, have been awesome.’’

Ford dominated both sessions, with the Blue Oval Gang placing five cars among the top nine in the first practice and four of the top eight in the second.

In each session, a Ford driver finished second to Biffle: Marcos Ambrose (193.349) in the first practice, and defending Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne (193.154) in the second session. Danica Patrick, making her Daytona 500 debut, ran 13th fastest in the first practice session (191.975) before tapering off to 26th (191.351) in the second.

Today’s time trials will set the front row of the 43-car grid. The Nos. 3 through 35 starting positions will be determined by Thursday’s Gatorade Duel, a pair of 150-mile qualifying heats, with the top two non-top 35 qualifiers in each race gaining a spot in the 500 along with the next three fastest qualifiers on speed and one past champion’s provisional.

Asked if he considered himself the driver to beat for the pole, Biffle said, “We’re definitely one of them, but some other guys still have some speed left.

“The thing that concerns me a little bit is that’s about all we’ve got. That’s our hubs, our gears, our oils, that’s about it.

“I know more and more people have been showing up and just doing three- or four-[lap] runs and have a lot of their stuff already on the car, but we really don’t have many more tricks in the bag.’’

Sanctions likely

Although Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet finally passed technical inspection yesterday and was allowed to take the track for qualifying practice, the installation of NASCAR-approved C-posts did not necessarily exonerate crew chief Chad Knaus, who is likely to be sanctioned for the illegal modification of the sheet metal between the roof and rear side windows.

NASCAR president Mike Helton said it was “a high likelihood’’ Knaus would be penalized for infractions that were found Friday. But NASCAR officials indicated they would not take any action until after the Daytona 500.

Johnson wound up going 15th fastest in both practice sessions.

Michael Vega can be reached at

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