Season-opening practice begins with a bang
February 15, 2013, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- As far as Matt Kenseth was concerned, blame it on driver error.
The first NASCAR practice session of these Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway looked a lot like the last testing session here a month ago, with several cars suffering damage in a drafting accident on the 2.5-mile facility. But unlike that crash in January, which was sparked by unfamiliarity with one aspect of the Generation-6 Sprint Cup cars, this one had a much more conventional cause.
“That was 100 percent driver error -- my driver error,” said Kenseth, who started the accident when he came down on Kurt Busch just nine laps into Friday’s opening practice for The Sprint Unlimited exhibition race, which will kick off the NASCAR season. Five cars were involved, and three of those went to backups for Saturday night’s event.
Friday’s practice session was highly anticipated, given that nearly a dozen cars suffered damage in a January testing accident which began when Dale Earnhardt Jr. attempted to bump-draft Marcos Ambrose. A lack of familiarity with the new cars’ mismatched bumpers sent the No. 9 spinning, and with some parts in short supply, many teams packed up and headed home immediately afterward.
Friday marked the first drafting session on Daytona’s high banks since that episode. Nine minutes in, the field was exiting Turn 4 when Kenseth came down into Busch, turning the No. 78 and igniting an accident that also involved Juan Pablo Montoya, Mark Martin and Carl Edwards. The latter two went to backup cars, as did Busch.
“It was 100 percent my fault."
-- Matt Kenseth, on Friday's wreck
Kenseth, beginning his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing, placed the blame completely on himself.
“I had no idea anybody was there, and he had a run at the same time, and I came down in front of him, and he couldn’t get slowed up from staying out of me,” the 2003 series champion said. “It was 100 percent my fault. It doesn’t matter what kind of car you’re driving -- you drive down in front of somebody, they’re going to hit you. … It seems like the cars are real good. My car was real fast before I tore it up. I feel bad that it happened.”
Busch got the worst of it, hitting the outside wall. His Furniture Row Racing team has an alliance with Richard Childress Racing and has an additional car available at that organization’s shop in Welcome, N.C. if needed.
“It’s tough,” Busch said. “A lot of hard work goes into these cars, and six week’s preparation can be trashed in six laps. But Matt went high, and I think he expected me to go with him. I went low to go with Kyle (Busch), and I think Matt came across our nose.”
Kevin Harvick was able to snake his way through the crash and post the fastest time of the opening session, followed by Aric Almirola and Greg Biffle. Edwards wasn’t as fortunate -- although his spotter warned him an accident was brewing, he couldn’t get on the brakes quickly enough to avoid it. Edwards said his damaged car would be transported back to the shop in Concord, N.C., and refurbished in time to be used as his backup next week.
“The silver lining for us is that last year we came down here and we sat on the pole for the (Daytona) 500, and everything was cool and smooth and our year went terrible,” he said. “Hopefully, this is all our bad luck.”
Friday’s second practice was much more sedate, with only 12 drivers taking to the track and most of those performing single-lap runs. Denny Hamlin led the session, followed by Joey Logano, Biffle and Harvick.
“Historically, the second practice is a lot calmer,” said Gil Martin, Harvick’s crew chief. “People don’t run the second practice as much. In the first practice, something like that historically seems to happen, I think because everyone’s been all pent up all winter long. But these cars are just going to be little edgier in traffic, so everyone’s going to have to play a little closer to the cuff.”
“The biggest thing is just speed,” Martin said. “You just work on the car. The rules are going to be whatever they are. You’re just going to have to adapt to them and hope for that last session, you’re in the front. We’ll see what happens.”
Kenseth believed his team would be able to repair his car, which will not be the same one the No. 20 team will use for the Daytona 500. “I just never saw him,” he said of Busch. Although the presence of the new car heightens the curiosity over pack drafting at Daytona, the veteran Martin pointed out that such accidents are nothing new at NASCAR’s most famous track.
“You’re going to see plenty of wrecks. It’s Daytona and it’s restrictor-plate racing. There will be plenty,” he said. “But I don’t think there will be more than usual. … The bottom line is we really have to be aware of what’s going on around us. Things are happening pretty quick out there."