The pack is back. And so is the Big One.
Kyle Busch edged Tony Stewart in a thrilling finish of the first race of 2012, using a sling-shot pass Saturday night on the last lap of the exhibition Budweiser Shootout to beat the defending NASCAR champion to the checkered flag.
It gave Busch a victory in a wild race that saw him use two incredible saves to stay in contention at Daytona International Speedway.
The event was a preview of next weekend's season-opening Daytona 500, and showed that NASCAR has successfully broken up the two-car tandem racing that dominated restrictor-plate racing last year. Fans were overwhelmingly opposed to that style of racing, and NASCAR worked hard through the offseason to develop a rules package that would separate the cars.
It was obvious at the start that the new rules worked as the cars were lumped in a big pack from the drop of the green flag. It led to the first multi-car accident a mere nine laps into the race when David Ragan nudged Paul Menard to trigger the nine-car accident.
A later wreck with two laps remaining sent Jeff Gordon sliding on his roof for roughly 1,000 feet. The four-time NASCAR champion ultimately climbed out the window with his car still upside down, and said it was the first time in his career he'd been on his roof.
Gordon's accident began when he ran into the back of Busch, who used his second save of the night to avoid the accident. An earlier save left fellow competitors in awe.
"There aren't many people, ever, who could have done that," said three-time champion Stewart, who was behind Busch on the first save.
Busch referenced his wild ride in Victory Lane.
"I don't know how many times I spun out, but I didn't spin out, you know?" he smiled.