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Last updateMon, 27 Nov 2017 12am

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Old school racing returns at Daytona Speedweeks

Speedweeks 2012 has gone back to old school racing. 

Since the dawn of restrictor plate racing, pack racing has been the signature of racing at Daytona International Speedway. A couple of years ago someone realized pack racing was not the fastest way around the track.  If two cars hooked up, one pushing the car in front, they could pick up 5 mph or more than the speed of the pack.  

Very quickly everyone was lining up drafting partners and the large packs of cars travelling inches apart and the ever present threat of the “Big One”  became ancient history.  The fans didn’t like this new style racing.  NASCAR didn’t like it.

This past off season NASCAR did a lot of testing and modified the rules so that the car pushing the one in front would quickly

overheat. Presto, no more two-car drafts.  Pack racing returned with a vengeance during the Budweiser Shootout a week ago. 

The race ended with the return of another Daytona Cornerstone.  Kyle Busch passed race leader Tony Stewart in a classic slingshot maneuver  to take the win by less than a hood length crossing the start/finish line.

It also marked the end of a format. The Shootout returns to its roots in 2013, primarily a battle among winners of the pole from each race in 2012.  Carl Edwards, set to start on the pole for the Daytona 500, is the first to punch his ticket for next year’s Shootout.

Speeds climbed in qualifying. Edwards qualified at over 194 mph, the fastest speeds in more than a decade.  Thirty-nine drivers posted qualifying speeds faster than Dale Earnhardt’s pole winning speed in 2011. 

NASCAR also announced last week that next year’s Speedweeks will dip into its past for a special, non points race for NASCAR’s roots racers from the touring divisions and Whelen All-American Series. A 0.4 mile track will be set up on Daytona’s Super Stretch.

The return to pack racing at Daytona seems to be a hit with the fans and the drivers. We haven’t heard from the crew members back at the fabrication shops on the decision to go back to pack racing and the dreaded, “Big one” style crash fests. With the Truck and Nationwide races now in the books, the carnage to the fields was by far the worst in years.  The staffs in the fabrication shops have to deal with what is left of the beautiful cars they spent the entire off season building and massaging.

Both the truck race Friday and Saturday’s Nationwide race were very much about who survived the melee to enter victory lane.  The truck race took all three green white checkered attempts to complete the race; in the end the winner was rookie John King who was making his first appearance on a super speedway.  Prior to the start of the race, King just hoped to stay out of trouble, log laps, and gain some experience.

Saturday’s Nationwide race created a lot of buzz right from qualifying when Danica Patrick surprised everyone by taking the pole for the race.  In a weekend of unlikely winners, James Buescher took the checkered flag under caution with wreckage from cars of the likely winners strewn behind him in turn four.

Buescher, a first time winner in the series, took advantage of a last lap wreck involving front runners Trevor Bayne, Tony Stewart, Elliot Sadler, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Kyle Busch to score the victory, one day after rookie John King won the Camping World Truck Race.

Buescher survived damage from a late race crash to secure the win. It was a case of right place at the right time.  “I got caught up in one of those late-race wrecks, but it’s not over -we’re still in it,” Buescher said of his attitude approaching a restart with two laps to go.  Incredibly, Buescher came out of the fourth turn on the final lap in 11th place, just as the field in front of him began spinning in all directions.  Buescher picked his way through the carnage and was the first car to cross the finish line.

NASCAR tried all day Sunday to get the Daytona 500 in, but the weather would just not cooperate.  For the first time in its 54 year history, the Daytona 500 was rained out. The race was rescheduled for Monday at noon.

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