DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Saturday night’s Budweiser Shootout was more than an exhibition race. It was a battle of survival.
And when it comes to driving through calamity, nobody has proven to be better than Kyle Busch.
Busch pushed Tony Stewart ahead on the final lap and won a drag race by less than three inches at Daytona International Speedway.
“Amazing race,” Busch said. “It was fun to drive when I wasn’t getting turned around.”
Busch spun off track with 20 laps to go but saved his No. 18 Toyota and drove back onto the track in 12th position. He was involved in a big crash coming to the white flag but he missed most of the damage.
Once he made it a two-car race, his relentless drive to the checkered flag even impressed a lot of his critics.
“I knew he was going to pull out,” Stewart said. “At least he got us up there where we needed to be. He did a good a job. He did exactly what he needed to do.”
Just four of 25 cars in the race finished without damage. Busch’s car wasn’t one.
“I pulled low and got behind Stewart,” Busch said. “We motored right up there. It was a two-man race. It was going to be either me or him.”
Marcos Ambrose finished third, followed by Brad Keselowski in fourth and Denny Hamlin in fifth.
The race was open to the top 25 race teams from the 2011 season, as well as former Shootout, Daytona 500 and Coke Zero 400 winners. Most considered the 75-lap exhibition race as a high-speed dress rehearsal for next Sunday’s Daytona 500.
None of the 25 teams in the race planned to use their Shootout car in next week’s Daytona 500, the first official race of the NASCAR season. Everyone will have a different car for Daytona 500 pole qualifying today.