NASCAR’s season begins with crashes, rain, changes aplenty
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.
Bubba Wallace of Richard Petty Motorsports topped the speed charts during the second practice at Daytona on Saturday.