It didn’t take very long for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to set the fastest speeds of Wednesday’s first practice session in preparation for both the Gatorade Duel and Daytona 500. He topped the charts quickly and was running well with Jimmie Johnson pushing him until the affects of some of NASCAR’s recent rule changes came into play which wrecked Earnhardt Jr. and Martin Truex Jr., forcing each into back-up cars. For Junior, who won the Daytona 500 pole last Sunday, he’ll have to start from the rear in both the Gatorade Duel and Daytona 500.
The cause of the accident was Robby Gordon, which isn’t anything new, but the reason he was going so slow can be attributed to NASCAR. Gordon was switching from pusher to leader to avoid overheating issues and slid too high on the track which caused Johnson to slow a bit, then causing Junior to slow and then the next freight train of cars led by Truex Jr. just ran into the back of Junior wrecking them both. Had the front grille and cooling system pressure not been reduced, we may not have had the type of situation where so many tandem cars were flip-flopping positions so they don't overheat.
The restrictor-plate reduction has slowed the cars down a little, but the speeds on the day still topped 200 mph. NASCAR’s main goal for the water cooling reductions was to deter drivers from staying in two-car caravans, but now what they’ve done is create a lot of situations where there is going be cars going 200 mph and others will be going 185 because of the leader of the two-car trains switching to help their trailer.
The situation with Junior happened with only half the cars on the track. What’s the situation going to be like when there are 43 cars on the track? You have to think it's got to get messier before it gets cleaner this Thursday for the Duels, and then again Sunday with the 500.
After the wreck, most drivers called an end to their session. After Mark Martin finished his practice before the session was over he said, “This whole thing is a crap shoot and I don’t need any practice shooting craps.”
When practice had ended, Kyle Busch topped the speed chart at 200.254 mph being pushed by Jamie McMurray. Greg Biffle had the second fastest speeds at 200.249 mph.
Earnhardt Jr. will now be using his backup car, a chassis that Jeff Gordon drove to an eighth-place finish at Talladega. His backup car now will be his Bud Shootout car from Saturday. The reality of all is that Junior didn't even want to practice or race hard in Thursday's qualifying races because he and Jeff Gordon are locked in for the Daytona 500.
The final practice of the day was led by Kasey Kahne at 200.067 mph, followed by Joey Logano, Jeff Gordon, David Ragan and Kyle Busch to round out the top-5.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Quotes Following the Wreck
WHAT HAPPENS BETWEEN NOW AND THE 150'S TOMORROW? “Well, we’ve got plenty of race cars. And I ain’t worried about how fast we’ll be or whether we’ll be as good. We’ll be fine. But you know, it never feels good tearing them up. I’m just disappointed in myself. I didn’t feel good about getting out there and practicing and didn’t think I needed to be out there practicing. I just had a bad feeling about it. And we come running up on some guys that didn’t have their heads on straight and got in an accident.”
WHAT HAPPENED? “We were coming around the corner and there were three guys on the inside and they moved up off the bottom and me and Jimmie (Johnson) had to checkup and I got hit from behind there.”
IS IT REALLY HARD TO SEE? IT LOOKED DIFFICULT OUT THERE: “That is just restrictor plate, we see wrecks here all the time. It wasn’t anything different than anything we’ve seen in the past. Out there practicing; not everybody on the same page.”
WERE YOU SPEWING WATER OUT BEFORE THE CRASH? “It was after. We were all overheating. 220 degress is what we usually run, the temperature was fine. We were actually testing to see when that pressure valve went off. We were probably about a lap or so from being done.”
WHAT IS THE BACKUP CAR YOU WILL USE NOW? “The backup car is fine, just as good as the other ones. They are all kit cars any ways. The bodies are all the same. Good motors. We’ll have plenty of speed, but we have this car; the third car, the fourth car is just as good. I mean, they are all good.”
ARE YOU FRUSTRATED? “Just getting caught up in wrecks. Just feeling a little snake-bit right now, because, I don’t feel like I was really at fault in any of them but we just keep getting in them.”
WAS THE AIR MOVED OFF OF YOUR CAR BECAUSE OF IT? “No. They just moved up in front of us and we lifted and the guys behind us didn’t know what was going on. That is all that happened.”
YOU SAID YOU WERE NERVOUS ABOUT PRACTICE, WHY? “Well we have the pole sitting race car, don’t need to practice.”
ANY MORE REASON THAT THAT? “Well, I hadn’t been out there, we hadn’t practiced together, so no. I don’t know who is paying attention and who ain’t. I had a fast car and didn’t want to practice it.”
WHAT IS YOUR EMOTION RIGHT NOW? “Get the next one ready.”