Even though his Budwesier Shootout ended after a crash, there may not have been a driver happier about the pack racing that dominated most of the evening than Dale Earnhardt Jr.
"I like this kind of racing better," Junior said, referring to the pack racing over the tandem drafting style that has dominated restrictor plate racing over the last two years. "At least I know what to expect. I feel like I have a better chance with this style than I did last year for damn sure."
Few, if any drivers were better at drafting in a big pack than Junior, who has seven Sprint Cup restrictor plate points wins. And Junior's prowess at slicing and dicing through packs of cars was evident, as he led 12 of the 54 laps he completed before being caught up in a crash when Marcos Ambrose got into Joey Logano.
"This is real similar to when we first put the blades on the roofs," Junior said. "These cars that we have now have a really big greenhouse. There is just a massive closing rate. When you get bogged down guys can just fly around you."
The multi-car crashes during Saturday night's race were caused when drivers got into the left rear of the cars in front of them — contact initiated in part by the cars' inability to maintain constant contact nose-to-tail for multiple laps. Those changes to eliminate the two-car tandem for prolonged periods of time worked, Junior said, and not to the point of forcing the cars to overheat while in a traditional restrictor plate pack.
"You don't have to move around. You just hold your damn car where it needs to be and not drive around like an idiot," Junior said. "If you want to drive your car in a straight line and be sensible it is possible [you can]. There is no chaos out there. Yes, there are guys moving around, but it's not necessary. They are not doing it because they are hot or there are problems with their engine running hot or anything like that. They are just having a good time. Everybody is enjoying it."
And while the return of the pack may be the best thing to happen to Junior's restrictor plate chances, he says that the Daytona 500's still anyone's race.
"Maybe being 500 miles guys might use a little better judgment, but I wouldn't count on it. It is a heavy-duty race. It is a pretty big deal to win and its going to be a lot of guys pretty excited about their prospects of winning it. Still pretty much any car can win. The lottery's still there for the whole field."
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- restrictor plate racing