By Dave Rodman, NASCAR.COM
February 16, 2011 4:51 PM, EST
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Daytona 500 pole winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Martin Truex Jr. were forced to unload backup cars after an accident in the opening moments of Wednesday’s first practice for the Gatorade Duel qualifying races.
Their respective teams, from Hendrick Motorsports and Michael Waltrip Racing, worked through the final practice preparing the cars, including installing engines. Thus, neither driver will have practiced in the cars before they start their Duels.
They just moved up in front of us, and we lifted, and the guys behind us didn’t know what was going on.”
— DALE EARNHARDT JR.
Per NASCAR’s rules, Earnhardt will retain credit for his pole position and will line up there for the first Duel on Thursday and again, for Sunday’s Daytona 500, before dropping to the rear of each race’s field on the pace laps.
Wednesday’s schedule was delayed by rain until Sprint Cup cars took to the track just before 3 p.m. ET. Earnhardt completed 19 laps and was third-best behind Kyle Busch and Greg Biffle before he crashed coming off Turn 4.
“We were coming around (Turns) 3 and 4, and some of the guys on the inside moved up into the top lane, or toward the top lane,” Earnhardt said. “And me and Jimmie were checked up, because we didn’t know if they were coming into our lane. We got run over from behind. Just a tough deal — the same old stuff that always kind of happens here.
“They just moved up in front of us, and we lifted, and the guys behind us didn’t know what was going on.”
Earnhardt drove his car the wrong way up pit road and back to its garage stall and his crew immediately removed its backup from the transporter.
Truex visited Earnhardt’s garage stall and discussed the situation next to the wrecked No. 88 as Earnhardt’s crew worked on it. After several minutes, Earnhardt patted Truex on the back, and Truex returned to his own garage.
“He was fine, but there’s no reason to be out here tearing these things up — it’s too damned expensive,” Truex said. “He wrecked one in the Shootout the other night and that wasn’t his fault, either. It seems like all the bad crap happens to the same people, and I’m getting tired of it.”
Truex said he was beyond frustrated, the longer he looked at his wrecked primary car.
“Everything was going great,” Truex said. “Me and [Brian] Vickers were working together, working on the switch [switching positions in the two-car draft]. We’re both Toyotas so we’d gotten hooked-up coming off pit road and we were running good, our lap times were really fast and we were switching really quick.
“We were going back-and-forth with [Earnhardt] Junior and Jimmie [Johnson], swapping back and forth and we’d gotten that worked out. I knew those two guys were fast, so we wanted to stay out there and run around them a little bit.”
The plan came apart when the closely drafting pairs came through Turns 3 and 4 and, coming off Turn 4 quickly overtook the cars of Robby Gordon, David Gilliland and Michael Waltrip, who were traveling much slower in the lower groove. Waltrip never left the yellow line on the bottom.
“[Robby Gordon] and them just kept drifting up, and I saw Jimmie check-up, because I seen his door numbers, because he got sideways,” Truex said. “So I checked-up and obviously, Brian’s pushing me, and he don’t know I’ve checked-up — until it’s too late.
“By that time, I was already into Junior sideways, and it was too late.”
Both cars spun to the inside and Earnhardt’s hit the inside wall flush, sideways.
“I don’t know what [Gordon] was thinking,” Truex said. “He just made a bad decision because those three cars were going 20 or 30 miles an hour slower than we were; and they were going around the bottom. But the closer we got to them, they just kept moving up.
“The way the draft used to be, you could do that, pull up in front of cars and they’d get to you and they’d push you back. But we were coming so fast, and I don’t know why somebody would pull up. We’ve been watching all week how fast two cars are together — you don’t pull up in front of them, nobody does. You stay in your lane, otherwise there’s gonna be a crash.
“Sure enough, somebody made a bad decision, moved-up and we had a crash. There was no reason for that wreck — no reason to tear up two good cars. I feel so bad for Junior. He was going to lead us to the green at the 500 and one person’s mistake — or bad judgment — causes a wreck.”
Earnhardt’s primary car is a chassis Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon raced to an eighth-place finish at Talladega last October. The car Earnhardt wrecked in the Budweiser Shootout was being painted Wednesday at the Hendrick complex in Charlotte, N.C., prior to being returned to Daytona to serve as the new backup.
Truex said his wrecked primary had been raced last fall at Talladega, but wasn’t tested here — either in December or January. The backup is brand-new and has no test miles, either.
“It doesn’t need to be,” Truex said. “I told Pat [Tryson, his crew chief] that we shouldn’t even have practiced. The car was great, I should’ve just went out, pushed for a lap or two and said ‘it’s good.’ The car was great, awesome; and me and Vickers together were as fast as anything out there.”
Truex’s point was well-made. Only 32 of the 48 cars remaining at the speedway of the 49 original entries practiced in the second session. In each practice, in the wake various technical changes by NASCAR to cut speeds, two cars were over 200 mph. Kyle Busch’s 200.254 mph effort in practice one was the day’s quickest.]]]]> ]]>
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