With parts at a premium, most teams turn focus to Charlotte
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The multi-car accident that marred the second day of Preseason Thunder prompted a flurry of activity in the garage area at Daytona International Speedway -- but not the kind that typically follows a big wreck.
Teams didn’t pull out back-up cars -- with some parts for the new Generation-6 Sprint Cup Series vehicle still in demand, many didn’t bring backups to the test session at all. Instead, crewmen loaded up equipment and pushed cars into the overhead bays of their team transporters, beginning the journey back to the Charlotte area a day earlier than planned.
More than 10 teams started packing up immediately after Friday’s accident, which began when Dale Earnhardt Jr. tapped Marcos Ambrose in drafting practice, and ultimately sent about a dozen cars spinning along the backstretch. Some received too much damage in the crash, and wanted to get an early start on repair work. Others didn’t incur any damage at all, but loaded up anyway.
“Truthfully, we had already been through everything on our list as far as single-car runs, and we really wanted to draft this afternoon,” said Rodney Childers, crew chief on Mark Martin’s No. 55 car, which was not involved in the incident. “Once that many cars got torn up, nobody’s going to want to draft. There just aren’t enough cars to get out there and draft. We really need these hood and deck lids for the Charlotte cars next week too, and if those would have gotten torn up, we’d be in really bad shape.”
Sprint Cup Series testing
Preseason Thunder runs through Saturday, and will be followed by another test of the new car next week at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Teams obtain hoods for the new vehicle from their respective manufacturers and deck lids from a common supplier, meaning they can’t simply make more if any get damaged. Concerns over keeping those parts intact was one reason all three Michael Waltrip Racing teams left the test a day early, even though just one of the team’s three cars was involved in the accident -- and that one, only barely.
“Our car is kind of bent up a little bit, so they want to take it back up to the shop and fix it,” MWR driver Martin Truex Jr. said. “It's not bad, but we kind of got done with everything we wanted to, and the car is in good shape. I was happy with it. It has great speed, and it's going to be our (Sprint Unlimited) car, so they figured they would go home to fix it, and I think everybody has pretty much had enough anyway.”
MWR wasn’t alone. Richard Petty Motorsports, which had the cars of both Ambrose and Aric Almirola involved in the incident, was packing up shortly afterward. So were the teams of Hendrick Motorsports drivers Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon, also caught up in the fracas. Single-car Phoenix Racing loaded up its No. 51, which incurred damage in the wreck. And Penske Racing packed up the vehicles of Joey Logano and defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski, which were nicked up as well.
“The damage that the cars have, it’s so crucial how your body is, and on a speedway especially. What we’re going to learn from here isn’t really going to help us,” said Travis Geisler, Penske’s competition director. “The best thing we can do is get these cars home, and get them worked on tomorrow, and start trying to rebuild them to bring them back. … I think we’re going to have to be prepared for whatever the Speedweeks brings us. We’re going to need all the bullets we have.”
Tommy Baldwin Racing loaded up its No. 36 car after driver Dave Blaney suffered damage in a spin Friday morning, and Denny Hamlin’s team at Joe Gibbs Racing departed Thursday night so the driver could be with his girlfriend, who is due to give birth. About 10 haulers were packed up following the conclusion of Friday's test session, with several already pulling out of the Daytona garage area.
Preseason Thunder began Thursday with 35 cars. Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president of competition, didn't believe the exodus would impact the amount of information the sanctioning body receives from teams. More teams planned to remain for the final day -- Roush Fenway, Richard Childress Racing and Stewart-Haas among them -- than departed early.
“No, I don’t think so,” Pemberton said. “Because what we saw was 199 (mph) in the first (drafting session), and they were slower in the second one because they worked on their chassis to get them more comfortable and tighten them up. So they’ll take what they learned there, go home, go to work, and they’ll come back with more speed. But we’re pretty good with what we saw.”
For some teams, though, the ramifications of Friday went beyond testing. The Phoenix Racing car involved in the accident was the same one Regan Smith was scheduled to drive in the Daytona 500. General manager Steve Barkdoll said the team -- which has about 18 employees -- would go to another car, even though that decision would put it behind in its preparations for upcoming races at Phoenix and Las Vegas.
“We’ve got a backup, a good speedway backup, but it’s not done,” Barkdoll said. “We’ll go back and concentrate on it, and get another one ready.”