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In retrospect it was a strategy more teams should have adopted, considering an 12-car wreck marred Friday's afternoon session of practice at Daytona International Speedway.
But as often the case in the NASCAR garage, Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus were thinking ahead and could see what was on the horizon.
And what they saw, they didn't like.
Because of the small fleet of cars they had in their arsenal due to the changeover to the Gen 6 model, along with a limited number of parts and the Daytona 500 being a little more than a month away, the No. 48 team wisely decided to play it safe.
"Generally speaking, we just don't have any cars," Johnson said Friday at Daytona. "This is our only speedway car for the 48 car. ...We just don't have the inventory. I mean we have four deck lids for our cars that are legal and they are on the four Hendrick cars that are here now. We're playing a big game of catch up right now."
It was a decision that made perfect sense when you weigh the risks of jockeying around in a large pack at Daytona compared to running around by yourself. It's a big picture outlook, and it's a game plan that has served Johnson and Knaus quite well over the years.
Now, as most of the sport's top teams pack up to leave Daytona prematurely and head home to fix their wounded race cars, you'll excuse Johnson and Knaus if they start to smirk. This is because instead of having to pull fenders and bang out dents out like their competitors, the two can continue to prepare for next month's Daytona 500 - as well as the season ahead.
"For us, it makes no sense to go out there and draft because you aren't going to learn anything," Johnson said, somewhat prophetically, earlier in the day. "You're just taking a chance of ruining your best race car."
As such, there will be no scrambling for the championship-winning pair that has rewritten the NASCAR record book.
The first checkered flag of 2013 hasn't even waved and the 48 team has already scored a victory.
Marcos Ambrose was the other driver at the epicenter of Friday’s major accident that began when the Tasmanian moved across the bumper of Dale Earnhardt Jr., sending his No. 9 Ford Fusion into the wall and into oncoming traffic.
When the accident ended, 10 cars had been caught up, causing most of the teams to pack up and head home to Charlotte due to lack of resources and spare parts for the new Generation Six race car.
Earnhardt attributed the accident to his Chevrolet SS not lining up with the Ford the way it would have under previous cars, a notion that Ambrose agreed with.
“I guess I just got caught on the edge of his bumper there,” Ambrose said. “The shape of the nose and the tires just spun me out. It was hardly even a bump. It was just enough at the wrong angle, wrong time and I just went for a spin.”
The Car of Tomorrow featured splitters and bumpers that lined up, allowing for two cars to link up like pieces of a puzzle. That combined with the grip level of the newly-paved Daytona and Talladega track surfaces allowed for cars to stay linked up all the way around the track.
In an effort to eliminate the two-car draft, NASCAR decreased the size of the grille opening last season and altered the capacity of the radiator pressure relief valves that made the cars overheat if they remained in tandem for more than four-to-five laps.
The result was a very unstable pack that allowed for very little maneuverability and some of the most dramatic crashes in NASCAR history, including one that involved 25 cars at Talladega last October. Following the accident on Friday, Ambrose thinks drafting will look slightly different when Speedweeks begins in Daytona.
“Well, certainly we used to get greedy with the old cars,” Ambrose said. “It was very easy to bump draft. You really had a good square surface to push from. You could get across on an angle and still get away with it. So I guess we are used to that. I didn't think anything of it.
I got a couple shots from (Earnhardt) down the backstretch and we carried some steam. Just the third shot just spun me out. So I definitely think it's a consequence of the new shape, and like a downforce, the car’s very light and it doesn’t take much.”
With the NASCAR season rapidly approaching, Dale Earnhardt Jr. made it clear what his expectations are for himself and his race team in 2013.
"We have an opportunity," Earnhardt Jr. sad Friday at Daytona International Speedway. "Our time is now, we have a chance."
In large part, Earnhardt Jr.'s mindset can be traced back to last season where he was one of the most consistent drivers on the circuit. And that consistency, which netted him one win, 10 top fives and 17 top 10s during the regular season, had many thinking that Earnhardt Jr. would be a contender for the title during the Chase.
However, a series of concussions, which took him out of the car for two weeks, derailed any chance Earnhardt Jr. may have had. And instead, he ended the year 12th overall.
"It was a disappointment not to finish as well as we had hoped in the Chase and go for that championship," Earnhardt Jr. said. "We felt like we were a strong enough team at parts of the year to definitely do that."
But now fully recovered, and citing a strong team behind him along with the excellent rapport he shares with crew chief Steve Letarte, Earnhardt Jr. is determined to fulfill last season's promise and finally win that elusive first Cup title.
"We definitely got some unfinished business," he said. "And we feel like we can put forth the same effort and get the same results this year.
"If we can just find some more pieces and keep improving, keep working and not get complacent about certain things, we can be one of those teams that are sitting there at Homestead with a shot at it. I really believe that."
Not only is Earnhardt Jr. happy with where his team is at, he's also happy with the direction NASCAR is headed. In particular, he likes the changes the sport has undergone in the last few years - specifically the development of the new car and the implementation of double-file restarts. And all this has him energized about what the future holds.
"I feel like this sport is in a good, healthy place and we have a good opportunity to grow," Earnhardt Jr. said. "With this car we have a chance to do something great and really make a big impact. ...I think the racing is as exciting as it's been in a long time."
A multi-car accident marred the first hour of preseason draft practice on Friday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway.
More than 10 cars were involved in the accident that began when Marcos Ambrose shifted down the track and clipped the front bumper of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Chevrolet. This caused the No. 9 Ford to get into the wall, sideways, and collected at least eight other drivers including defending Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards.
This effectively ends the drafting portion of preseason testing as several teams, including those of Keselowski, Gordon, Kahne, Amborse and Aric Almirola are heading home to Charlotte due to a lack of resources and parts to continue testing.
Earnhardt Jr. said this was the first time his new Chevrolet SS had pushed the Ford Fusion and thinks the conflicting designs of their Gen-Six cars contributed to the cause of the accident. Earnhardt also drafted with Chevrolets and the new Toyota and said those combinations lined-up well.
"I thought Marcos was backing up to me coming out of turn two," Earnhardt told Speed’s Bob Dillner after the accident. "I was trying to push him a little bit and had a hard time getting our bumpers lined up. There’s a roll bar on the front end of my car and that’s the first time I’ve pushed a Ford.
"His car is sitting up on my roll bar and I was wheelbarrowing him around a little bit and we ended up getting turned. I was hoping I didn’t start it – don’t know if I did."
The accident completely caught Keselowski off guard.
"I didn’t see anything," Keselowski said. "I saw cars smoking in front of me. I ran into the back of Almirola and someone ran into the back of me. It’s just the way this deal is. It’s unfortunate but sometimes you have to wreck them to learn."
Keselowski thinks restrictor plate racing is "rewinding" back to where it was in the early part of the last decade. He believes that drivers have to adjust to the old style of pack racing and accidents like this are just a part of the learning process.
"The sport advanced to where we had the two car tandem about three or four years ago and there were things you could do that you couldn’t do in the past without wrecking," Keselowski said. "But now the package has been changed back to where it was as in the early 2000s and fans are going to enjoy it a little better.
"But as drivers we have to rewind back to how we used to drive the cars. This is how you do it. You learn and make mistakes and that’s just part of it. I might be the guy that makes the mistake next time so I’m not going to be mad about it.
"But let’s be honest, it’s January and we have another month and a half to build these cars, right?"
Michael Waltrip Racing drivers Mark Martin, Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer each missed the wreck but have also decided to leave Daytona. They don’t want to risk tearing up their cars and only planned to draft for the next two days. But with so many teams heading home, drafting really isn’t an option.
A video of the accident can be found below.
Complete list of those involved in the crash:
Greg Biffle explained what it takes to win restrictor plate races during a media session on Friday morning. Biffle won the 2003 summer Daytona race and finished third in last season’s Daytona 500. While a little bit of luck is certainly a factor, Biffle thinks there’s more to winning at Daytona and Talladega.
“I wouldn’t say it comes down to luck,” Biffle said. “At the end of these things, people are pushing and shoving and someone gets sideways and comes out of the gas and your lane slows down, guys get broke up at the end. It is just so hard to predict what is going to happen.”
Biffle says that drivers continually think about when they should make their move towards the front, all the while at turning laps at over 200 mph.
“When is the right time to pass?” Biffle hypothetically asked. “In the final restart of (last year’s Daytona 500) I debated whether to try to pass Matt (Kenseth) at that point but I felt like I wanted to wait to the white flag to make my move… You don’t want to make your move too soon. Then Tony (Stewart) and those guys got a big run and broke us apart. We were split up and coming down the backstretch to the white. You just never know. You can look back at that and think that you should have gone around him then, but you just don’t know what is going to happen.”
Even so, the draft changes from year-to-year with altering rule packages and the new Generation Six race car. The car is 160 pounds lighter, has less downforce and a slightly smaller spoiler. Biffle expects this combination to change pack racing even more.
“A lot of us are skeptical of how the car will drive,” Biffle said. “With the weather being warm it will make it closer to the track conditions that we will see for the 500. Normally you are testing in 50 degree weather. It will be nice that it is a little warmer. I think we want to see how the car drives around other cars. I think we know what to expect but there may be something we are missing.”Follow @MattWeaverSBN
As Clint Bowyer did earlier in the day, Jeff Gordon avoided specifics Thursday when asked about the duo's New Year's Eve encounter aboard P. Diddy's $72 million yacht.
"We talked," Gordon said at Daytona International Speedway where he is taking part in a NASCAR test session.
What Gordon is most curious about is how he, Bowyer and Kevin Harvick all ended up on the music mogul's yacht in the Caribbean Sea at what he referred to as the "party of the year."
"The question is how he got on the yacht," Gordon said. "That needs to be the real question. ... We were just hanging out, having a good time, and on walks Bowyer and Harvick and a couple other folks."
Then, the four-time champ quickly tried to divert the line of questioning by saying he had a "great New Year's (Eve)."
The way Gordon sees it, the conservation between him and Bowyer should stay between the two of them and no one else. As for any lingering uncertainty as to whether Bowyer is still seeking revenge on him after he deliberately wrecked Bowyer last year at Phoenix, Gordon didn't have an answer for that, either.
For now, Gordon is focused solely on fine-tuning his Chevrolet in preparation for next month's Daytona 500. And after one day of testing, the four-time champ is happy with the speed he has shown thus far and is looking forward to seeing how his car handles in traffic.
"It was a fun day to see this new body style out there; it looks great and drives good," Gordon said. "It's an exciting way to get the season started."
Clint Bowyer can’t seem to get away from his NASCAR rival Jeff Gordon.
One week after their dramatic confrontation at Phoenix, the two finished first and second in the season-ending race at Homestead. And now, most recently, the two perennial contenders found themselves sharing a yacht in the Bahamas during a New Year’s Eve party hosted by hip-hop artist Sean “P. Diddy” Combs.
Bowyer is still wondering how he ended up on a yacht headed towards Saint Barthélemy, a French Island in the East Bahamas in the first place. However, he didn’t seem particularly interested in how Gordon ended up there either.
“It was the damndest boat you’ve ever seen in your life,” Bowyer said. “I’m from Kansas. We don’t have big boats in Kansas. We don’t have very big bodies of water. So, I think he was on that same boat. But there were a lot of other people on there and there was a big time being had.
"I’m pretty sure he was on there. It was pretty late.”
When pressed for an answer about whether he and Gordon interacted that night, Bowyer couldn’t resist answering with a degree of sarcasm.
“Yes, we held hands and walked on the boat, discussed the past year and enjoyed ourselves throughout the whole vacation,” Bowyer said while laughing. “That was the one person that I definitely wanted to vacation with. Yes, I couldn’t wait to get there for that very reason.”
While the trip to Saint Bart wasn’t exactly the Love Boat for Bowyer and Gordon, the long-awaited rematch didn’t materialize that night, leading to even more questions about their relationship heading into the new year.
“Who cares?” Bowyer asked. “Really, who cares? Apparently you guys do way more than we do. I can promise you that. I missed that deer that I was talking about in Texas though, if that makes you feel any better. That was more important on my off-season list than figuring out where I was going to vacation and who I was going to vacation with.”
Bowyer would rather just talk about the momentum he established last season, winning three times and securing second place in the Sprint Cup standings – a career best.
“We’ve just got to continue to improve and that was the one thing that I felt like (crew chief) Brian Pattie and everybody did all season long,” Bowyer said. “I felt like we picked up our program up in a big way during the Chase and elevated our game – me in the race car, us working together, our chemistry and Brian calling races. Just everything was really coming together and working well.
“I see that same thing starting out the new year.”Follow @MattWeaverSBN
Carl Edwards is looking to put a disappointing 2012 behind him and hopes his pairing with veteran crew chief Jimmy Fennig will result in multiple wins this coming season.
“I would like to put last year out of my memory and not think about it too much. Not in the last few years have I been this excited to go racing. I think it is probably because my off-season has been a little longer than most. I didn’t go to Vegas so I have been ready to go. It is nice to be here.”
Having the multi-time Daytona 500 winning crew chief in his corner has reenergized Edwards who hopes to win several times early in the season and not have to worry about making the Chase down the stretch. Edwards went winless last season and failed to make the Chase for just the second time in his career.
Edwards just failed to capture any momentum at the start of the season and eventually lost long-time crew chief Bob Osborne who stepped down due to health reasons. Osborne was replaced with Chad Norris who only secured four top-10s while paired with Edwards.
For his part, Edwards is ready move on from last year and is excited for the opportunity to work with Fennig.
“Respectfully I don’t want to talk about [last year’s crew chief situation] again,” Edwards said. “This year I think we have a couple of really good things going for us. I think Jimmy Fennig being the experienced guy that he is…I think that will help me…
“Last year we had a lot of adversity and did the best we could with it. We didn’t get the performance we wanted but when I take a step back and truly look at it I think we have a pretty good situation now. You never know. We could go out and win 10 races or we can have trouble. I feel like we have the deck stacked in our favor.”
Edwards is also looking forward to working with Penske Racing drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano whom joined Ford for the start of this season. Edwards believes that having the defending Sprint Cup Series champion at the same manufacturer will be a positive for everyone at Roush Fenway Racing. Edwards just hopes his team is up to the task of being able to provide valuable data in exchange.
“I hope we can share information,” Edwards said. “It would help us a lot. The way that Brad ran at the end of last year, that was spectacular and at the end of the day I hope we have something to give them so that they will reciprocate.
“The more teams you have working together the more information you have and more ideas you have and it makes things better. I am looking forward to it and hope we get to share a lot of information.”
Edwards enters the 2013 season with 19 wins in 301 starts. He was the championship runner-up in both the 2008 and 2011 seasons.
Citing her commitments as a full-time NASCAR driver in the Sprint Cup Series, Danica Patrick will not be competing in the 2013 Indianapolis 500, she acknowledged Thursday at Daytona International Speedway.
Instead, the priority that day for the highest finishing woman in 500 history will be focusing her attention on the Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
"I can confirm to you today I will not be doing the Indy 500," Patrick said at Daytona. "The team and I decided to focus on Cup. It's going to be plenty of work as it is. It's going to be important for me running for the championship full-time for the first time to really keep myself focused on the Cup car.
The Stewart-Haas Racing driver did say, however, that if she were to run the 500 again she would be doing so with longtime backer Go Daddy as her sponsor.
Patrick's comments came during a three-day test at the 2.5-mile oval where the kinks are being worked out of NASCAR's new "Gen 6" car in preparation for next month's Daytona 500.
In the first practice session of the day, Patrick posted the third-fastest time overall and was pleased with the progress her team made considering they had a brake issue that slowed the No. 10 Chevrolet earlier in the morning.
"(The team) found that the brakes were dragging so, pushed the brakes back for the last run," Patrick said. "They pushed me out, it probably looked like I was doing a full qualifying run, but we really just pushed the brakes back to see if that is exactly what it was. Sure enough we popped up the speed chart pretty well. It's nice to know that the speed is there so now we will just start with our test plan. They feel like they have it figured out what is going on with the brakes so we will get going this afternoon."
The switch to the brand-specific car is a good thing in Patrick's opinion as she feels it puts her on a relatively even slate with the rest of the garage and her lack of experience in a Cup car won't be as much of a hindrance.
She was also pleased with chemistry she has developed with crew chief Tony Gibson, who joined her team late last season.
"I know the most important thing I feel with any team - whether its racing or any sport - is that the team itself is critical," Patrick said. "It's important to have good energy together, understand each other well and work well together. And I feel like the switchover to Tony Gibson and his team at the end of last season for the last two races was a really good change, and I feel like I saw some real potential about having a good year this year.
"... I think we're all real confident going into this year and I think we need to be optimistic, keep our heads down and stay positive when it gets tough."
Patrick also confirmed that she has been talking with Turner Scott Motorsports about running a limited Nationwide Series schedule for the team. However, negotiations are still underway in regards to the number of races, and who would sponsor the effort.
Michael Waltrip will drive in next month's Daytona 500 behind the wheel of the No. 30 Toyota fielded by Swan Racing.
The move, which was announced during a NASCAR test session Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, will see the two-time 500 champion reunite with former crew chief Tony Eury Jr., who he worked with in 2005 when the two were at Dale Earnhardt Inc.
"I am thrilled to drive the No. 30 Toyota for Swan Racing and the chance to win a third Daytona 500," Waltrip said in a statement. "Reuniting with Tony Jr. and Steve Hmiel brings back a lot of good memories and is going to create new ones."
Waltrip is noted for his ability on restrictor-plate tracks with all four of his Sprint Cup Series victories having come at either Daytona or Talladega -- including the "Great America Race" in 2001 and 2003 with DEI. He had qualified for 25-consecutive Daytona 500s from 1987-2011 before missing last year's event due to a crash during his qualifying race.
The co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing is replacing Swan Racing's regular driver, David Stremme, who is scheduled to return to the No. 30 car the following week at Phoenix International Raceway.
"This is a great move for Swan Racing," Stremme said. "Michael and I have been friends for a long time. We got to talking last year and from my perspective I thought this would help to further our relationship with Toyota and be a good building block for Swan Racing."
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