Thursday, February 4, 2010

Drivers Struggle During Bud Shootout Practices

Thursday evening the NASCAR Sprint Cup cars hit the track for the first time in 2010 for two practice sessions for Saturday’s Budweiser Shootout. With a larger restrictor plate, a new shock package and a different side wicker the drivers struggled to shake off the cobwebs and the number of wrecked race cars proved just that.

Getting aggressive early in the first session, drivers spread two- and three- wide around the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway. Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s hands were sawing on the wheel, Greg Biffle slid sideways off the corner and even Jimmie Johnson lost the rear end of his car off turn two.

Late in the first practice, the pack headed into turn one with Mark Martin and Denny Hamlin racing at the top of the track. Being pushed by teammate Joey Logano, Hamlin got a great run through the tri-oval and closed quickly on the back bumper of Martin’s No. 5 Chevrolet.

Seeing Hamlin’s charge, Martin dropped to the inside to give the No. 11 room to the outside, but Hamlin decided at the last minute to stay behind Martin. The two got together, sending Martin hard into the outside wall and triggering a six-car incident. Jamie McMurray, Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer (practicing for the ill Kevin Harvick) were also involved.

After the incident, Martin and Hamlin talked about the incident on the track using the universal drivers’ language – their hands.

“I talked to Mark,” Hamlin said. “I had a huge run going and I was going to go to the outside of him and I chose against it at the last minute. He was courteous enough and was going to give me the lane high and I guess when he checked up to give me the high lane I had already committed to go ahead and get behind him. Just a conflict of two lines, two cars going at the wrong place at the wrong time…Just a total miscommunication, that’s the thing.”

“Probably a case of both of us anticipating something where it caused a flash,” Martin said of the wreck. “I anticipated him. It looked like he was going to try to squeeze in on the outside of me, so I made an effort to give him the lane. And, he anticipated to get behind me, not that it wasn’t worth it to get in behind me instead. So, if either one of us had just anticipated something else, then it wouldn’t have happened. I saw him look for the outside and you know, it was practice, no reason to put the squeeze on him. I made an effort to give him a lane. I think at that same time, he decided it wasn’t worth pushing it so he decided to get in behind me so that caused us to come together.”

Hamlin, Martin, McMurray, Biffle and Harvick were forced to pull out the back-up cars for Saturday’s Bud Shootout.

As the teams scurried to prepare the back-ups, the second practice got underway. After the big wreck in the earlier session, many expected the drivers to take it a bit easier in the final practice before Saturday night’s race.

That was not the case, however, as just minutes in the practice Kurt Busch was sent hard into the outside wall in the tri-oval. Looking to make a move under John Andretti, Busch ducked low with Juan Pablo Montoya tucked on his back bumper. Montoya made contact and the No. 2 Dodge shot hard into the outside wall.

“It’s a shame. I pushed [Kurt Busch] through the straight and he got inside I think the 34, I think it’s probably John [Andretti], and John just went all the way down to the bottom and the 2 checked up and that was that,” Montoya said. “What happened in the first practice was they were so out of control I parked the car. I didn’t want to be involved in any wrecks so I parked the car. We’re single file, pushing through, getting inside the 34 and the 34 just cut him down. It doesn’t matter, it is what it is.”

“Really, following guys, trying to get up to speed in the draft and we can’t do that,” a disappointed Busch said. “I don’t really know what to say or what’s going to happen. We’ve just got a lot of wrecked race cars in short practice already.”

The drivers were not so much pushing the ‘have at it boys’ mindset NASCAR now has, but figuring out a faster closing rate due to the rule changes. The move to a larger restrictor plate and the new side wicker down the rear windshield forced the drivers to readjust how they ran in the draft.

A number of drivers explained the closing rate in the draft was much different than in previous years, but Hamlin explained that had little to do with his incident. David Newton reported Hamlin as saying, “Actually, the cars don’t suck up that well.” (via @DNewtonespn)

At the end of the day, Jeff Burton led the first session while Kasey Kahne was fastest in the evening’s final practice. Eight cars were involved in the two wrecks and five of those were forced to pull out the back-up. If Thursday’s practice sessions are any indication of what the racing will look like this speedweeks, the crews better get ready to fix a lot of torn up race cars.

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