Penske Racing's Kurt Busch captured his first Sprint Cup Series restrictor-plate race victory by 0.058 of a second in the Bud Shootout exhibition by winning a game of pick your drafting partner with Earnhardt Ganassi's Jamie McMurray on the newly-paved Daytona International Speedway.
Stewart-Haas Racing driver Ryan Newman and his Joe Gibbs Racing drafting partner Denny Hamlin led Busch and McMurray off Turn 4 on the 75th and final lap. Newman's No. 39 and Hamlin's No. 11 were barreling toward the checkered flag on the low line when Hamlin's machine broke contact with Newman's and slid below the yellow line marking the track apron.
Hamlin's car crossed the finish line first as part of a three-wide pack ahead of Busch's No. 22 and McMurray's No. 1, which had overtaken Newman's car with a hard charge off the high line. Hamlin's maneuver drew a disqualifying black flag from NASCAR officials and brought Busch the victory.
"It's unbelievable. To experience Victory Lane here, no matter the race, is very special. I have to thank my motor department and Jamie McMurray. Jamie stuck with us, he had an unbelievable amount of power to push us and kept us in the mix. When you have a friend like that in this two-car draft, that's what it takes. It's an unbelievable experience to try to manage the cars in front, the car behind and this whole new game of Daytona," said Busch, who earned $203,000 for his efforts.
Hamlin sacrificed a chance at victory in the name of safety.
"That yellow line is there to protect us and the fans in the stands. I just chose to take the safer route. A win in the Shootout is not worth sending the 39 through the grandstands. For me, as fast as we're running, if I got into his left rear, that car will go airborne," Hamlin said.
Newman shot across the finish line third, five-time and defending series champion Jimmie Johnson finished fourth with Hendrick Motorsports and Greg Biffle claimed fifth for Roush Fenway Racing.
The annual preseason battle saw 28 lead changes among nine drivers in a 24-car field which routinely bettered speeds of 200 mph.
The tight shootout competition infused the defending Daytona 500 champion with anticipation for Thursday's Gatorade Duels and this season's "Great American Race."
"It's completely different plate racing than we've ever had. I hope it was exciting for the fans to watch. From the driver's seat, it was actually really exciting to push two-by-two and do the side draft. It is awesome, the runs you were able to get," McMurray said.
Story by Mike Schmaltz