Drivers find 'teammate for the day'

BY foxsports • February 12, 2011

NASCAR’s dress rehearsal for the Daytona 500 was an interesting display of dancing in the dark.

Kurt Busch won the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona International Speedway compliments of his “teammate for the day” Jamie McMurray on Saturday night.

“All the credit goes to him,” Busch said of McMurray.

Busch acknowledged he was uncertain what the strategy would be entering the race. He “didn’t know what to expect.” But as the laps wore down, McMurray remained hooked to Busch's bumper.

“I was just going to take it one lap at a time and see how it plays out,” Busch said. “I wanted to learn as the race went on how this Shell/Pennzoil Dodge raced. (McMurray) was the man tonight. He stayed with us. He stayed true. I can’t thank him enough for doing that tonight. I hope it was the show the fans wanted to see.”

McMurray, the defending Daytona 500 winner, knew the race would come down to picking a dancing partner. With his teammate Juan Pablo Montoya eliminated from the race in an eight-car pile-up on Lap 28, McMurray opted to pair up with Busch — a friend off the track and someone he felt he could trust.

“I told my spotter that we need to either get with (Matt) Kenseth or with Kurt,” McMurray said. “That would be the two most loyal guys to me. It just happened that Kurt wound up in front of me on the restart and I just shoved him around there and it worked out in the end.

“It was a completely different kind of plate racing than we have had. But 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, so I hope the fans enjoyed it."

As the laps wound down in the final segment, a four-car breakaway ensued with Ryan Newman in the lead being pushed by Denny Hamlin, followed by McMurray pushing Busch. Coming out of Turn 4 on the final lap, Hamlin ducked away from Newman — and below the yellow line, resulting in a penalty that posted him in 12th place, the last car on the lead lap.

But the racing was curious. And temperatures in the 40s enabled cars to run in tandem longer than most of the teams anticipated. Despite a rule change NASCAR announced earlier on Saturday to remove auxiliary air hose ducts, not every team was affected by the rule — including McMurray’s No. 1 Bass Pro Shop Chevrolet.

Still, drivers expect the action to be more dicey in the Gatorade Duels on Thursday and the Daytona 500 on Sunday, which will both be held in the heat of the afternoon when temperatures are far warmer and cars will not have the luxury of locking together for longer periods of time. Drivers will be forced to split from their drafting partners, get air through the grill and lower the temperature of the cars.

Newman estimated the speed immediately dropped 15 mph once the drivers were separated. Then a driver has to gather himself up and hook up with a fellow driver again to regain the drafting advantage.

“And if a guy was inexperienced or had to make something happen and pulled up in front of you, it was going to be a big wreck,” Newman said. “That's something that I think we have to be prepared for all as drivers going into Thursday's races — I guess the unexpected hazardous efforts to try to make a position to make the Daytona 500.”

SEE ME, FEEL ME

So who is driving your car?

That depends whether you are the pusher or the pushee. There’s no doubt when a driver is locked to the bumper of another car at 200 miles per hour his range of vision is nonexistent. That’s when the spotter steps in.

“My spotter was driving for me as if I was the car in front of me when I was behind somebody pushing,” Newman said. “You're at the mercy of his perception of car lengths and speed. For instance, one time in the trial oval I went down below the yellow line and the 16 (Greg Biffle) was still on my bumper wide open and I was on the brakes still passing cars just because that's the way it worked out. And eventually I came over the radio and said, hey, I had no control there. I let the guys have their positions back. I could have kept going, but it was like, wow.”

From the windshield of the No. 00 Aaron’s Toyota, what David Reutimann could see as he was tandem drafting was simple: “Nothing.”

“Not anything,” Reutimann said. “If stuff goes bad, you’re going to drive the car you’re pushing right into it 'cause you can‘t see. You have to rely on your spotter. My spotter tells me what’s going on in front of the car in front of me. That’s the only way you can do it.”

From the roof, spotters added matchmaker to their skill set as they aligned dancing partners for their drivers. The only bump drafting that occurred was a result of miscalculation on the driver's part.

“The track was very fast,” Denny Hamlin said. “The bump drafting incidents that we saw today was just from some people having to check up — you can’t see. The guy in second cannot see anything, so it’s just a tough predicament.”

THE CHEESE(HEAD) STANDS ALONE

Matt Kenseth was one of the unfortunate souls who found himself sans partner at the end of the Budweiser Shootout and finished 13th.

“At the end there I was the odd man out because I couldn’t get with a group of two,” Kenseth said. “Everybody was grouped up in twos, and if you can’t get with one other car in a group, you’re pretty much done and you’re just gonna fall back.

“It may be a little different next Sunday with more cars, but I don’t know.”

NUMBERS GAME

28 lead changes among nine different drivers was a track record.

7 laps — Kasey Kahne ran before blowing up.

14th position — Where Derrick Cope finished.

$100,000 — The ballpark figure one engine department spent on cooling systems between January testing and Speedweeks.

206.068 — The fastest lap (in mph) of Saturday night’s Budweiser Shootout, set by Michael Waltrip on Lap 10.


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