DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — There was a tangible sense of electricity surrounding the first event of Speedweeks, a race everyone expected to be so rough-and-tumble that NASCAR's relaxed rules toward aggressive driving would most certainly be tested.
Instead, Saturday night's exhibition Budweiser Shootout felt more like a cease fire.
The bumping and banging that's become the trademark of Daytona and Talladega wasn't too intense until the closing laps. The slicing and dicing of drivers weaving through the field was minimal.
And the opportunity to dazzle fans with a spectacular Daytona 500 preview was lost.
"It wasn't nearly as crazy as I thought it would be," said fifth-place finisher Denny Hamlin. "You would've liked to have seen a little bit more excitement."
That's because NASCAR all but promised as much by lifting the restrictions on bump-drafting and giving drivers the OK to mix it up more on the race track. Series officials had progressively squeezed out bump-drafting — the practice of one car shoving the car in front of it to push each other through the field at Daytona and Talladega — but decided to let the drivers police themselves after complaints of sterilized racing at NASCAR's fastest two tracks.
So it seemed logical that the no-points Shootout would be the perfect opportunity to see just what NASCAR would allow.
But come actual race time, it all felt fairly calm.
With several practice sessions and next week's qualifying races remaining, drivers walked a fine line Saturday night of trying to preserve equipment and keep their focus on the Feb. 14 main event.
"We didn't want to tear this car up, and that was the main focus," said Hamlin, who ran a conservative race before his late charge to a top-five finish behind winner Kevin Harvick.
Patrick announcement expected Monday
Danica Patrick is expected to announce Monday whether she will enter the Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway.
JR Motorsports has said it will be up to Patrick to decide if she wants to make her NASCAR debut in the Feb. 13 second-tier series race at Daytona.
She wanted to wait until after her stock car debut to make a final decision. Patrick finished sixth in Saturday's ARCA race at Daytona.