DAYTONA BEACH — It was a two-car tango at Daytona International Speedway, where wild, pack racing was replaced Saturday night by sizzling fast speeds and a strange ending that gave Kurt Busch the win in the Budweiser Shootout.
The exhibition race was the first test on Daytona's smooth new pavement, and speeds at times hit 206 mph in a race that saw a record 28 lead changes among nine different drivers.
The final pass, though, was ruled illegal as Denny Hamlin was disqualified for going below the out-of-bounds line.
It made Busch, who actually crossed the finish line second, the first Dodge driver to win the non-points race that has opened Speedweeks for 33 years.
"What an unbelievable experience, this two-car draft. I had no idea what to expect going in," Busch said. "I was just going to take it one lap at a time and see how it played out."
The ruling against Hamlin by NASCAR was not controversial. The yellow-line rule has been in effect and enforced since NASCAR returned to Daytona in July 2001, nearly five months following the last-lap accident that killed Dale Earnhardt.
"I thought it was a great, three-wide finish," said Hamlin said, "but obviously I used some pavement I shouldn't have."
It was instead the style of racing that created the most controversy as opinions between drivers and fans differed greatly.
The racing at Daytona had for so long been a white-knuckle, bumper-to-bumper mob of race cars unable to pull away from each other. Cars could shoot through the field at will, but one small bobble often created dangerous accidents.
When the track opened last month for testing, though, teams had seemingly figured out the new NASCAR rule packages and the smooth surface at Daytona had created a new strategy of two-car racing.
So from the start of Saturday's 75-lap race, the field was quickly split into several packs of two cars. It lasted to the end, when two packs of two had pulled so far from everyone else that they were the only cars contending.
"I would love to be racing the other way," said pole-sitter Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was eliminated in an early wreck with Carl Edwards. "It's more of a challenge because it's one on 43. Big ol' 30-car pack (of old), believe it or not, I'd rather do that. … The cars are stuck to the track like glue."
Ryan Newman led Hamlin around the 2.5-mile oval, with Busch and Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray trailing close behind. Newman, as the leader, said he knew he was "a sitting duck" as he waited for Hamlin's attempted pass.
It came as they closed in on the checkered flag, when Hamlin dived low and eventually under the yellow line at the bottom.
Busch then skirted around Newman at the top of the track, pulling McMurray with him.
Hamlin was black-flagged and fell to 12th in the final standings, the last car on the lead lap. Busch was declared the winner with McMurray and Newman finishing second and third.
Hamlin understood NASCAR's ruling.
"That yellow line's there to protect us and the fans in the stands safety. I just chose to take the safer route," he said. "Winning a Shootout's not worth sending (Newman) through the grandstands, and for me, as fast as what we're running, if I get into his left rear, that car will go airborne.
"It's a tough position. I probably should have gone high to avoid that whole thing."
Busch won his first race in the No. 22 Penske Racing car (he drove the team's No. 2 car the past few seasons) and for the first time at Daytona in any race.
"To experience Victory Lane here, no matter what the race is, it's pretty special," Busch said.