NASCAR’s sea­son be­gins with crashes, rain, changes aplenty

San Francisco Chronicle - - PAGE 2 - By Jenna Fryer Jenna Fryer is an As­so­ci­ated Press writer.

DAY­TONA BEACH, Fla. — Chase El­liott took blame for the first crash of NASCAR’s new sea­son on a blus­tery day at Day­tona In­ter­na­tional Speed­way.

Mar­tin Truex Jr. topped the speed chart in his de­but for Joe Gibbs Rac­ing, and Bubba Wal­lace of Richard Petty Mo­tor­sports jumped to the top of Satur­day’s sec­ond ses­sion be­fore weather brought an early end to NASCAR’s Cup Series prac­tice.

Rosters were needed to track all the off­sea­son changes and new faces pre­par­ing for the sea­son-open­ing Day­tona 500.

Kurt Busch, win­ner of the Day­tona 500 two years ago, now drives for Chip Ganassi Rac­ing in Jamie McMur­ray’s old seat. McMur­ray, the 2010 Day­tona 500 win­ner, will close his ca­reer next Sun­day with one last ap­pear­ance in “The Great Amer­i­can Race.”

Daniel Suarez got Busch’s old seat at Ste­wart-Haas Rac­ing, and Suarez was only avail­able be­cause Gibbs re­leased him to make room for Truex. Richard Chil­dress Rac­ing hired Daniel Hem­ric to re­place Ryan New­man in a re­branded No. 8.

New­man moved to Roush Fen­way Rac­ing, and his first stint in his new ride ended in a mul­ticar ac­ci­dent less than an hour into open­ing day. El­liott said he crowded New­man in traf­fic in the prac­tice for Sun­day’s ex­hi­bi­tion race and caused the crash.

He even apol­o­gized to ri­val teams for tear­ing up equip­ment.

“It looks like I just messed up. It hap­pens,” El­liott said.

The ac­ci­dent caused enough dam­age to force El­liott and Denny Ham­lin into backup cars for Sun­day’s Clash All-Star race.

Two Day­tona 500 qual­i­fy­ing prac­tices were largely un­event­ful as teams gauged the speed and han­dling of their cars be­fore Sun­day’s time tri­als. There are six driv­ers vy­ing for four “open” spots in the Day­tona 500 field, rais­ing qual­i­fy­ing stakes.

Ross Chas­tain is try­ing to bounce back from a roller-coaster off­sea­son by rac­ing in his first Day­tona 500. Although there’s a car in the Day­tona garage for him, J.J. Ye­ley could buy the seat from un­der Chas­tain be­cause Ye­ley has spon­sor­ship money and no ride.

Chas­tain got the break of his ca­reer in Novem­ber when spon­sor DC So­lar pushed Chip Ganassi to hire Chas­tain for a full sea­son in the Xfin­ity Series. But the FBI raided DC So­lar’s head­quar­ters about a month af­ter Chas­tain was hired. The spon­sor has since filed for Chap­ter 11 bank­ruptcy pro­tec­tion, prompt­ing Ganassi to shut­ter the Xfin­ity team.

Chas­tain, an eighth-gen­er­a­tion Florida wa­ter­melon farmer, parceled to­gether a sched­ule with smaller teams and was in the car Satur­day prac­tic­ing for the Day­tona 500. A driver change can be made all the way up un­til the Feb. 17 race, but Chas­tain is fo­cused only on what he can con­trol.

“Walk­ing into the cup garage and see­ing a race car with my name on the roof be­ing pre­pared to run the Day­tona 500 is some­thing I’ll never for­get,” Chas­tain posted on so­cial me­dia.

⏩ Har­ri­son Bur­ton, the 18-yearold son of for­mer NASCAR driver and cur­rent NBC an­a­lyst Jeff Bur­ton, won the lower-tiered ARCA Series sea­son opener at Day­tona.

Brian Law­der­milk / Getty Im­ages

Bubba Wal­lace of Richard Petty Mo­tor­sports topped the speed charts dur­ing the sec­ond prac­tice at Day­tona on Satur­day.

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