And away we go.
The former Busch Clash became another Busch Bash as Daytona Speedweeks kicked off and a frustrating race produced a pile of wrecked racecars and a third win in this event for Denny Hamlin. It was ten years ago Hamlin first won this race in his debut ride with JGR and some things didn't change, except for all the "kids" who now comprise his pit crew and engineering squad.
Some takes on this event -
The Shootout hasn't been a particularly good gauge of late for the 500, as JGR has monopolized this race the last five seasons yet hasn't gotten anything out of it for the rest of Speedweeks. Joe Gibbs' Toyotas exploded to life in the second half of 2016 but now the team has to prove it in the 500, something it hasn't done in the ten years Hamlin has been part of this outfit.
It was a terrible start for Hendrick Motorsports, which monopolized the 500 last year until the final twenty laps turned into the fight for the lead it was supposed to be from Lap One onward. All three Hendrick honchos crashed out and were curiously timid as far as trying for the lead went.
Going for the lead was the ugliest part - only three drivers led and it was doubly frustrating as drivers strained to make push-drafting work - this after Frank Kimmel got a push-draft to pass some five cars on the last lap of the ARCA 200 in his futile effort to catch John Wes Townley. The lead actually changed hands numerous times thanks to all the restarts and for all the inability to seize the lead the draft looked strikingly effective, albeit hindered but all those "bubbles of air" discussed throughout the telecast. After the competitive apex of 2012 the Shootout has been in a rut but this one had some very good racing and moments worth remembering.
The ARCA 200 was surprisingly good, and John Wes Townley earned props after an amazing 13-lap sidedraft battle for the lead near halfway. It turned out to be overall almost better than the Shootout; combined the two made for a very good raceday.
Ganassi-Earnhardt Racing will remember this one for awhile as Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson showed the only muscle outside of Brad Keselowski and Hamlin. They were the only Chevrolets worth a damn all night, this even though Paul Menard and Austin Dillon managed decent finishes - for Menard there was a shot at a wildcard victory bid but it wasn't much of a shot, and Dillon's finish said more about the crashes than about Dillon's increasingly-dubious potential as a racer. Of the five Fords, Keselowski and Logano ran strong as usual and that was largely it - the Roush Fords were pretty much junk and Greg Biffle got junked, yet survived enough for a decent finish; Aric Almirola ran decent and looked like a top-10 finisher until the Kahne set-to down the backstretch clipped him with numerous others.
Tony Stewart is not here due to his back injury and it's probably just as well after Brian Vickers got trashed despite some decent fight; his teammates also got it and weren't around at the end. It was also another Danica Patrick race - a top-10 run for a few laps then she folded like tissues, the only surprise being she dodged the wrecks until the very end.
NASCAR debuted its "overtime line" to determine the finishing order of a green-white-checker finish, yet what resulted was yet further proof NASCAR has no clue - it decided to allow the racers to race to the stripe after the last-lap crash, then decided entering Turn Three to throw the yellow.
In all the 2016 running of the Shootout was pretty much like the previous three -a good raceday but with unencouraging moments - a mixed bag for certain.