NASCAR NOTEBOOK: Wreck throws monkey wrench into Daytona test sessions
By: By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service, Superior Telegram
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- So much for pack drafting.
A brief experiment with the multicar draft ended abruptly Friday afternoon when contact between Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Chevrolet and Marcos Ambrose's Ford triggered a wreck that damaged 12 of the 18 cars running together on the second day of Preseason Thunder testing at Daytona International Speedway.
Earnhardt said he was attempting to push Ambrose, but the nose of the Chevy didn't line up comfortably with the rear bumper of the Ford. Ambrose said he felt two taps from Earnhardt's car down the backstretch before the third hit sent him spinning.
Ambrose was running second in the pack when he was turned into the outside wall, and the ensuing wreck damaged 10 other cars behind him -- those of reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon, Regan Smith, Aric Almirola, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Carl Edwards.
With rear deck lids in short supply and no backup cars available for teams other than Edwards' Roush Fenway Racing outfit, the wreck effectively ended testing for most drivers involved.
"I didn't see anything," said Keselowski who was near the front of the pack when the wreck occurred. "I saw cars smoking and wrecked in front of me. I think I ran into the back of the 43 (Almirola), and someone ran into the back of me. That's just the way this deal is. It's unfortunate, but sometimes you've got to wreck ‘em to learn."
Both Keselowski and Earnhardt agreed that, with the configuration of the new 2013 Gen-6 race cars, tandem drafting -- with one car aggressively pushing another -- may be a thing of the past.
"The sport is rewinding," Keselowski said. "That's an important thing to say, because the sport advanced to where we got the two-car tandem about three or four years ago. There were certain things that you could do with them that you could never do in the past without wrecking. Now the rule package has been changed back to where we were in the early 2000s, where I think the fans and everybody else enjoyed the racing a little better.
"So, as drivers, we have to rewind back to how we used to drive those cars. This is how you do it. You learn, and you make mistakes, and that's part of it. I might be the guy that makes the mistake next time, so I can't really be mad about it. It's unfortunate that there are torn-up cars, but let's be honest -- it's January, and we've got another month and a half to build ‘em right."
That's a process that is ongoing. According to Jimmie Johnson, the only Hendrick Motorsports driver not involved in the wreck, his entire organization had a total of four rear deck lids, one for each car.
For those, including Earnhardt, who test sessions didn't end with the wreck, there won't be any more pack drafting when drivers return on Saturday.
"We'll go back to single-car runs," Earnhardt said. "I don't think anybody wants any more drafting after that.
"So we'll just go back to running single-car runs. We're probably going to be here till 5 o'clock tomorrow working on our cars. We've got to find a little more speed."
EARNHARDT'S BUCKET LIST
Earlier Friday, in a question-and-answer session with reporters, Dale Earnhardt Jr. talked of unfinished business in his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career. His desire to win a Cup title is at the top of the list.
Last year, Earnhardt came tantalizing close, before a concussion sustained at Talladega knocked him out of competition for two races during the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Nevertheless, the progress he has made with crew chief Steve Letarte and the rest of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team has Earnhardt hopeful that he can sustain the momentum established last year.
Earnhardt freely admits that a championship is his primary goal.
"Absolutely," Earnhardt said Friday after a morning Preseason Thunder test session for new 2013 race cars at Daytona International Speedway. "With the way we ran last year, and getting a real sense that we were starting to win at that level, as a team that had the opportunity to win the championship, that felt really good and got really exciting.
"I think we have an opportunity (where) our time is now. We have a chance, if we can just find some more pieces and keep improving. We've steadily gotten better the last couple of years. If we can continue to do that and keep applying ourselves and keep working and not get complacent about certain things, then we can be one of those teams that are sitting there in Homestead with a shot at it. I really believe that."
Earnhardt says the problems with concussions are behind him. In late August of last year, Earnhardt suffered a concussion during a test session at Kansas Speedway. After a subsequent accident at Talladega in October exacerbated the issue, Earnhardt sought medical treatment and was sidelined for two races.
"It was good to get in the car at the end of the year and run a couple of races and get that out of the way," said Earnhardt, who returned to the No. 88 for the final four events of the season after missing races at Charlotte and Kansas.
"I feel good -- ready to go. I'm glad I did it the way I did. I think it gave me a good opportunity to get better faster and come back right and come back sharp."