Well, a couple of the Budweiser Shootout stats I wrote about last week are, as they say, "no longer operative." The record for lead changes went by the wayside, and Kurt Busch took Dodge to its first Shootout win after Denny Hamlin made a pass out of bounds below the double yellow line coming to the checker. NASCAR has made it very clear that the double yellow line rule at Daytona and Talladega will be rigidly enforced, and Hamlin's transgression was pretty obvious. Busch is obviously a man on a mission. After being bumped from the Penske team's "Blue Deuce" to the number 22 Pennzoil car this year, Busch not only won the Shootout but also won the first race of Thursday's Duel at Daytona. The victory will put him on the pole for Sunday's 500, since former pole sitter Dale Earnhardt Jr. wrecked his primary car in practice during a bump-drafting run with teammate Jimmie Johnson.
Daytona's new track surface, along with changes like the new rear spoiler, have made a two-car draft significantly faster than a single car or a larger drafting group. Closing speeds are incredible, and NASCAR has already made a couple of rule changes to discourage the practice and slow the cars down.
A smaller restrictor plate will be in place for the 500, as well as smaller radiator openings, causing the second car in a draft to overheat more quickly when running behind another car. With over a third of the field out of the race at the finish of the Shootout and a wreck-strewn second Duel race on Thursday, the sanctioning body is doing everything it can to prevent carnage in Sunday's race.
Gibbs Racing did not fare well in the second Duel race, with both Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin suffering off-track excursions, Hamlin's off the front bumper of teammate Kyle Busch.
The second Duel race, in addition to all the crashes, saw two Childress Racing drivers finish 1-2, with Jeff Burton heading Clint Bowyer. Michael Waltrip, a two-time Daytona 500 winner and now part-time racer, finished third. If the Shootout and the Duel races are any indication, the 500 will be a barn-burner.
In other racing news, we mourn the passing of a legend. Tom Carnegie, who has been the chief PA announcer at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for decades, passed away on Feb. 11 at the age of 91. For 61 years, from 1946 through 2006, Carnegie's signature phrases of "Heeeee's on it" and "It's a newwww track recorrrrrd" among others thrilled hundreds of thousands of race fans every year. I had the privilege of meeting Carnegie at a lecture he gave In Reno in 1994. I introduced myself as a fellow racing announcer, and he was most gracious to me.
He was truly a legend, and will be missed by everyone who loves racing. Brian France, CEO of NASCAR, said in a statement that when the stock cars first appeared at the Speedway in 1994 he was thrilled to have Carnegie on the PA system to lend his talent's to NASCAR's debut there.
If you have a young racer who is itching to get into NASCAR, there is good news on that front. NASCAR announced last Saturday that the minimum age for drivers competing in the sanctioning body's regional touring series has been lowered to 15. This means that the K&N Pro Series East and West, the NASCAR Whelen Modified tour, the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified tour, and the NASCAR Canadian Tire series are all open to 15 year old racers. In addition, the NASCAR Learner's Permit will allow drivers and crew members as young as 14 to participate in the Whelen All American Series.
This program should apply to Reno-Fernley Raceway under its new NASCAR sanction. NASCAR has been steadily lowering the age limit for drivers, and when it went from 18 to 17 in 2007, Joey Logano became the youngest champion in the K&N Pro Series East at 17 years of age. If the trend continues, 5 and 6 year olds can skip the karting portion of their racing education and get into stock cars using booster seats!