Blown engine hits No. 88 driver as adjustments continue
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The white smoke emerging from the rear of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s car first appeared in traces, but before long it was billowing out in a thick cloud. And very quickly, it was marking a trail back to the garage area at Daytona International Speedway.
Earnhardt’s engine failure was one of the more notable events of a very active Wednesday on the 2.5-mile speedway, as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series field took part in a pair of practice sessions in advance of Thursday’s 150-mile qualifying races for the Daytona 500. The former Daytona 500 champion lost the engine in his Hendrick Motorsports car in the first practice, and will have to start at the rear of the first Duel at Daytona qualifying event as a result.
“I'm sure there is some logical explanation as to what happened,” Earnhardt said, “but we'll just put a new one in and start at the back of the qualifier tomorrow, and race up through there.”
Earnhardt was slated to start sixth in the event by virtue of his speed during front-row qualifying Sunday. The failure will not impact his starting spot for the Daytona 500, which will not be determined until after the Duels are concluded. The engine change also did not affect his outlook on Speedweeks.
“Everything is good,” said Earnhardt, who got back on the track for the second practice. “We were just making some single car runs by ourselves. Everything seemed like it was working. Just trying to find a little more speed, and we found a few things that seemed to help the car. We'll … see what else we can learn, but everything should be fine."
Earnhardt’s was far from the only team forced to make adjustments on the fly Wednesday. Reigning Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski had a fuel pump fail during the first practice and spent time in the garage area having the problem repaired. Keselowski was back on the track in time to turn a few more laps before the opening session concluded.
“Something went wrong with the fuel system in the car,” said Keselowski, whose starting position for Thursday was not affected. “That’s not what you want when you’re in front of the pack because when your car slows down, they’ve got nowhere to go and it could cause a wreck. So we’re going to spend a little extra time to make sure we’ve got whatever it is figured out.”
Another day of practice also brought another incident on the race track, this once involving Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman. Edwards’ car came down across Newman’s as the two were participating in the opening practice session, and Mark Martin’s vehicle suffered some damage as well. Both Edwards and Newman said their teams planned to repair the vehicles and use them in Thursday’s qualifying events.
“I didn’t know what happened, and he honestly admitted that he didn’t know what happened,” Edwards said. “Just all of a sudden, my car was going across his nose. He did say that he tried to come up and put the air brakes on me. I think in doing so it just made my car that loose. I hadn’t been loose the entire time. It was just something new, and a different characteristic of this car I guess.”
These Speedweeks are the first for the more brand-identifiable Generation-6 Sprint Cup car, and drivers are still adjusting to how the vehicle performs in the draft. “I think it’s just an aero situation,” Newman said, referring to his crash. “… That was my first experience, but I guess my car just got light in the back going into the corner.”
Michael Waltrip led the day’s first practice at 198.347 mph, followed by David Ragan, Tony Stewart, Paul Menard and Kyle Busch. Only three drivers -- Michael McDowell, Dave Blaney and Josh Wise -- did not participate in the opening session. The second practice saw much of the field on the sidelines, and Kasey Kahne (at 197.737 mph) post the fastest speed of a much calmer session in which just 27 cars took part.
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