After Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Martin Truex Jr. both appeared to place blame on cars drafting ahead of them following Wednesday's Daytona practice crash, one of those drivers defended himself.
David Gilliland – who was drafting with Robby Gordon at the time of the crash – said he never moved up the track and was aware both Jimmie Johnson and Earnhardt Jr. were coming on the outside. Gordon may not have known, though, and seemed to drift up just as the Johnson/Earnhardt Jr. train was barreling toward the slower cars on the top lane.
Johnson made an evasive maneuver to avoid what he felt was going to be a major wreck, but when Earnhardt Jr. got off the gas, he was run over from behind by the combination of Truex and pusher Brian Vickers.
"You gotta pay attention out there, man," Earnhardt Jr. said, seemingly referring to Gilliland and Gordon. "I mean, if you're going to come out here and race, you need to pay attention."
Said Truex: "Somebody made a bad decision up ahead. For some reason, they decided to pull up in front of our little pack."
But Gilliland said he didn't move up and added the slow speed was a result of having recently completed one of the two-car draft swaps with Gordon.
"I was in the middle of the track," Gilliland said. "To me, the whole thing is a product of what the cars have to do to go fast. I was getting behind Robby (after swapping positions on the backstretch), and we had lost all our momentum. They were coming with a head of steam on the outside.
"We weren't moving up. My spotter had told me they were coming on the outside. I knew they were coming."
The closing rate between the paired-up cars and the cars that are trying to switch positions to avoid overheating is shaping up to be a major issue in the Daytona 500.
Gilliland said the dramatic difference in speeds – possibly 15-20 mph – is going to cause some wrecks. The two-car drafts come up on the slower cars so quickly, there's nowhere to go.
Earlier Wednesday, Johnson agreed with him and said "the tricky part" to switching in the two-car draft was the closure rate.
"That could potentially cause some wrecks," Johnson said.
Additionally, Gilliland echoed other drivers' claims that the "pushers" can't see what's going on.
"That's the problem with the whole thing – the guy behind you is pushing like this," said Gilliland, pulling his hat completely over his face. "They can't see a thing. If anything happens with the guy in front of you, you can't react that fast."
He speculated that's why Vickers pushed Truex into Earnhardt Jr. on Wednesday.
Because of NASCAR's rules changes following the Bud Shootout, cars now begin to overheat in the two-car pairing after a very short time. That causes the partners to do-si-do and swap positions.
Gilliland predicted drivers would only be able to push for three or four laps at a time before the car started to overheat. At about 250 degrees on his Front Row Motorsports Ford, the new pop-off valve starts to push water out.
"You're going to take 500 miles of chances on Sunday," he said. "You'll see a lot of blown engines. Racers are greedy, and you want to go fast."
Between blown motors and a closing rate Gilliland is sure will cause wrecks, the driver said he isn't sure the race will look good to fans.
"I think the pack style is better, myself," he said. "I think this is going to be not a real exciting race."