Sunday, February 19, 2012

Kyle Busch’s shootout win may have been greatest restrictor-plate race performance ever

Forty-eight laps through Saturday night’s Budweiser Shootout at Daytona International Speedway, Kyle Busch sat in Turn 2 facing the infield grass.

For most drivers, that view means they have wrecked, or are well on their way to wrecking. At a restrictor-plate track such as Daytona that usually means their race is over and they will get a free trip to the infield care center.

But Kyle Busch isn’t like most drivers.

While sparks flew from the back of his #18 car as if he had dropped a full bag of M&M’s, Busch manhandled his car through the turn, back up onto the track and back in contention.

Then he did it again in Turn 4 on lap 74, although all of the other nearby drivers wrecked to bring out a caution.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series didn’t even have a full race in the books, and Busch already locked up the title for the two best saves of the 2012 season.

However, Busch didn’t stop there.

Despite damage on the front of the car as a result of the wrecks, Busch hooked up with Tony Stewart on the final lap to push to the front. He then pulled out to the high side coming out of Turn 4 and passed Stewart to win the race by the closest margin in Budweiser Shootout history.

NASCAR has raced with restrictor plates for nearly 25 years, and we have seen other incredible performances from legends in the sport. But, Busch’s effort at Daytona on Saturday night might have been the greatest ever.

Sure, drivers such as David Pearson, Bill Elliott, Dale Earnhardt and even Tony Stewart have won their fair share of incredible races at Daytona and Talladega.

Pearson won the 1976 Daytona 500 by crossing the finish line with a torn up car after he and Richard Petty crashed coming out of Turn 4 on the final lap of the race.

Elliott came back from two laps down to win the 1985 spring race at Talladega Superspeedway without the aid of a caution flag.

However, both of those were before NASCAR began using restrictor plates in 1888.

Earnhardt’s finest come-from-behind moment happened at Talladega in the fall of 2000 when he came from 18th place in the final four laps to win his final race.

Stewart drove through the grass through Turn 1, jumped back up on the track and went on to win the 2005 Nationwide race at Daytona. But, he only had one wild ride that day. Busch had two Saturday night.

There have surely been other great performances at restrictor-plate throughout the years. But none of them had to overcome as many setbacks, and none of them won by such a close margin.

Busch should have wrecked twice, but he held onto the car both times, had damage to the front of his car because of his two incredible saves and then won the race by the closest of margins.

Even Busch’s competitors recognized the talent he displayed in the shootout.

“There's a lot of guys that wouldn't have caught that,” second-place finisher Tony Stewart said. “I'm sitting there and the green is still out. I'm going, 'Man, that's the coolest save I've seen in a long time.'"

"That was awesome!" Jimmie Johnson said over the radio after Busch's first save.

Many people love to hate Busch for one reason or another. Some of that hatred is justified by his actions such as the incident at Texas Motor Speedway in November when Busch intentionally wrecked Ron Hornaday Jr., who was in contention for the truck series championship.

Even with all of that baggage, Busch’s performance Saturday night has to stand out as one of the greatest performances the sport has seen.

Granted, it was an exhibition race, but Busch went through more in the 75 laps that make up the shootout than most drivers endure in a full 500-mile race.

Rather Busch’s win goes down as the most impressive restrictor-plate victory or not, the 2012 Budweiser Shootout should be remembered as one of Busch’s best performances ever.


  1. Great driving... Great win and Kyle deserves the accolades. Now if he can just keep his eye on the prize. Everybody seems to have annoited Carl Edwards as the next multi-Sprint Cup champion, and maybe he will be, but if Kyle Busch can just put on the blinders, block out all the crap people keep laying on him and drive... He'll be the one with multiple championships not Edwards...

  2. Dwindy1 - I think this is a very important year for Busch. If he doesn't contend for a championship again this year, rumors that he can't put together a championship run will get louder and louder.

  3. Great story, dude! If Kyle keeps the same focus that he showed Saturday night for the rest of the year, he'll be contending at Homestead.

  4. Gene - Thanks! It would be a remarkable story if he could come back and contend for, or maybe win, the championship in 2012 after what happened at the end of last season.