(Daytona Beach, Fla.) – As teams looked to feel their cars out before Thursday’s Gatorade Duel 150 qualifying races, six teams were forced to pull out their back-ups. The day’s practice sessions saw a number of close calls in the draft, as well as tire problems. Five days before the biggest race of the season, the drivers shook off the rust and some paid the price.
Clint Bowyer, David Reutimann and Derrike Cope were all involved in an incident during the first session after Bowyer cut a tire between Turns 1 and 2. The No. 33 shot up the track leaving Reutimann with nowhere to go but into the back bumper of Bowyer. For some reason, Cope was unable to slow his ride down and piled into the back of Reutimann.
As the first practice session came to an end, the aggressiveness in the draft did not. Half an hour later the cars were back on the track and jockeying for position two- and three- wide. The faster cars worked on the handling of their rides and searched for the best drafting partner, while slower cars did everything they could to gain speed for a shot at making the race. Unfortunately, that did not make for a good mix off Turn 4.
At the front of the pack and in the middle of the track, Mike Bliss did all he could to hang on to his Tommy Baldwin Racing ride. With a car to his inside, Bliss lost control of the No. 36 and shot up into the No. 20 of Joey Logano. The two made heavy contact with the wall and sent the rest of the cars in the pack scrambling to avoid the wreck.
“I knew I was going to be a sitting duck,” Bliss admitted as he sat in his back-up car. The driver of the No. 36 Chevrolet explained he felt he got hit in the left rear just a bit and that triggered the incident. Looking at the replay, however, it was clear Bliss simply lost the car and was unable to get it together in front of the pack.
While Bliss and Logano suffered the majority of the damage, defending series champion Jimmie Johnson drove into the back of Denny Hamlin and spun down the track. The No. 48 did not have significant visible damage, but the team opted to pull out the back-up just to be safe. As the team went to work pulling out the back-up the damaged car was being sent back to Charlotte for repairs.
Just minutes after the three-car wreck off Turn 4, Michael Waltrip shot out of line going down the backstretch. The two-time Daytona 500 champion apparently cut a tire and was forced to save his No. 51 Toyota as it slid through the grass down the backstretch. He did not have to go to a back-up car however.
For the drivers that were forced to go to the back-ups, they will have to drop to the rear of the starting grid for their respective 150-mile qualifying race. Once in that race, they can go as planned and improve their starting spot for Sunday’s Daytona 500.
If Wednesday’s practice is any indication of the kind of racing we’ll see Thursday, the wrecking may not be over.