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Metal Storm Warning: A Wild Day In Daytona

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, February 10 2010
This has been a common site at Speedweeks so far. Cars spinning and smaching. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

This has been a common site at Speedweeks so far. Cars spinning and smaching. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

By Mike Harris | Senior Writer

Daytona Beach, Fla. – Gentlemen, start your wrecking.

Practice for the Gatorade Duel 150s began Wednesday at Daytona International Speedway and, suddenly, it was a free-for-all on the 2.5-mile oval.

Before it was all over, six drivers, including four-time defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, had to roll backup cars off the team transporters.

The first possibility that came to mind was NASCAR’s decree of a few weeks ago: “Boys, go to it,’’ giving the drivers the green flag to use their own judgment on when to bump draft at Daytona.

But there were multiple reasons for Wednesday’s wrecks, and the bottom line is a lot of cars close together at speeds close to 200 mph. Make one slip or one mental error and BOOM, twisted sheet metal and lots more work for your crew.

Johnson said he was just riding along, thinking things were pretty calm, when, BAM, there was the No. 11 Toyota of Denny Hamlin slowing down directly in front of him.

“I need to go to tape and see what happened here because I was riding along just fine and the next thing you now I was in the middle of it,’’ Johnson explained.

“The 11 checked up really hard and I got into him really hard and it did some damage to the front end of the car,’’ he added. “We just can’t get it right here, so we know we’ve got a great race car in the truck and we’ll bring it out and send this one back to Charlotte and let it be repaired the right way in case we need it after the duels.

“We have a good strategy (and) we certainly want to keep this car. From the outside it doesn’t look all that damaged, but the splitter is just twisted and it needs to be right to be a backup down here.’’

Hamlin said his car wasn’t damaged too badly and would be repaired. But Joey Logano, Mike Bliss, Clint Bowyer, David Reutimann and Derrike Cope were not as fortunate. Each got caught up in crashes that necessitated moving to a backup for Thursday’s races

“Things were wild and here’s the biggest problem,’’ Johnson said. “Guys have different theories on where they want to blend on the racetrack. Some people stay on the bottom, others think they want to blend on the top. Either way, there’s a draft and 15 to 20 cars coming, and we’re like a snake weaving through these cars, with cars coming off at different speeds.

“I don’t believe that’s what caused (my) wreck, but there were a lot of other crazy moments because of that.’’

So, where should the slower cars be blending in?

“You just really have to pick one spot and have that be it, but I think the bottom so that a slow car does not have to cross the outside lane,’’ Johnson noted. “If all the slow cars would stay on the bottom until they get up to speed … and also they need to fall in at the end of the pack and not have it be a speed difference, that would be helpful.”

Hamlin, who also crashed last week in Budweiser Shootout practice, agreed with Johnson that cars trying to blend into the speeding packs of cars already on track can cause problems. But he had his own idea about all the crashing.

“I just think with the speeds we’re running, cars are less stable than what they have been in years past,’’ Hamlin explained. “You know, when cars are getting close to each other  the car up front just doesn’t have the grip he used to have.

“They’ve changed some stuff, the rear shocks and whatnot. I think they added some rebound and that takes some grip away from the rear end and, obviously, it kind of makes our cars a little bit more on the edge. But, if they want to put this back in the driver’s hands, this is what you’re going to see. You’re going to see more of a spread out type of race and you’re going to see the good cars running up front.’’

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, February 10 2010
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