Wrecks, tem­pers pro­vid­ing volatile start for Speed­weeks

NASCAR giv­ing abil­ity to let driv­ers showe­mo­tion

The Covington News - - Sports - By Mark Long

DAY­TONA BEACH, Fla. — Tony Ste­wart and Kurt Busch were sched­uled for a Satur­day morn­ing meet­ing with NASCAR of­fi­cials.

It was a volatile start to Speed­weeks and gave NASCAR a chance to show it was ac­tu­ally will­ing to let driv­ers be more emo­tional this sea­son.

“It’ll be in­ter­est­ing to see how this all un­folds,” Dale Earn­hardt Jr. said.

Ste­wart and Busch were in­volved in the sec­ond of two wrecks dur­ing prac­tice for Satur­day night’s Bud­weiser Shootout, an ex­hi­bi­tion race that kicks off nine days of rac­ing at Day­tona In­ter­na­tional Speed­way.

Busch was block­ing Ste­wart, and con­tact be­tween the two cars sent Busch spin­ning into the wall. Ste­wart then turned low and ran into team­mate Denny Ham­lin.

As Ste­wart tried to drive to the garage, Busch caught up and twice slammed into the side of his car. Busch then blocked Ste­wart from ex­it­ing the track, prompt­ing some of Ste­wart’s crew mem­bers to run to­ward pit road. They ap­peared to yell at Busch.

Both driv­ers were called into a meet­ing with NASCAR. Jeff Gor­don and crew chief Chad Knaus burst into laugh­ter as Ste­wart walked to­ward the NASCAR trailer with a throng of re­porters and cam­era­men in tow.

Fans on an ob­ser­va­tion deck above the garage area shouted en­cour­age­ment to Ste­wart, in­clud­ing, “Get it on, Tony!”

NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter said of­fi­cials would meet with them again Satur­day. It was un­de­cided whether they will be pun­ished, and this gives NASCAR its first chance to de­cide how se­ri­ous of­fi­cials were when they said last month they will al­low their driv­ers to show more emo­tion this sea­son.

Fri­day night’s con­fronta­tion be­tween Ste­wart and Busch was clearly emo­tional, but NASCAR was up­set with the bump­ing and bang­ing un­der cau­tion.

“They made it pretty clear that th­ese two driv­ers are go­ing to have to re­ally think about what they are do­ing when they are in that race car,” Hunter said.

The meet­ing ended a wild two ses­sions of prac­tice for a no-points, 70-lap dash for cash.

“We are get­ting ag­gres­sive out there for not a lot of money on the line now,” fel­low driver Greg Bif­fle said.

Eleven of the 23 cars prac­tic­ing for the ex­hi­bi­tion were dam­aged, a pos­si­ble in­di­ca­tion of what’s in store lead­ing up to next week’s sea­son-open­ing Day­tona 500.

The first wreck started when Clint Bowyer nipped the back of Ryan New­man’s car, send­ing New­man slid­ing up the track and col­lect­ing sev­eral oth­ers in an eight-car crash.

Two-time de­fend­ing Cup se­ries cham­pion Jim­mie John­son, Gor­don, Carl Ed­wards, Mark Martin, Bill El­liott and David Gilliland also were caught in the wreck.

“We’re go­ing to see a lot of things like this hap­pen­ing be­cause the draft­ing is so se­vere that there is a lot of move­ment go­ing on out there,” Gor­don said. “I’ve been say­ing it’s go­ing to be ex­cit­ing, and I think there’s a whole lot more ex­cite­ment to come.”

The crashes sent crews scram­bling to pre­pare backup cars and gave ev­ery­one a lit­tle in­sight into what kind of rac­ing might come with the Car of To­mor­row, which is mak­ing its Day­tona de­but.

“The rac­ing should be spec­tac­u­lar,” Ed­wards said. “Cars are re­ally all over the place.”

When prac­tice re­sumed af­ter the sec­ond wreck, only five cars turned laps on the 2½-mile oval.

Af­ter prac­tice ended, sev­eral driv­ers said some were be­ing too ag­gres­sive, es­pe­cially with a new car that was any­thing but pre­dictable dur­ing test­ing.

“It al­most seems like we were go­ing for the win tonight,” Reed Soren­son said.

Guys have had their hands full try­ing to keep the cars in line, es­pe­cially in traf­fic. And since test­ing in­cluded no more than 14 cars at a time, the prac­tice ses­sion was the first chance to get a feel for big­ger packs of side-by-side rac­ing.

“It was to­tally like ‘Days of Thun­der,’” J.J. Ye­ley said. “I felt like Cole Trickle.”

Many pre­dicted it would only get worse when the green flag drops Satur­day night, when there’s ac­tu­ally some­thing at stake and even more driv­ers try­ing to take chances in hopes of get­ting to the front.

Given the rocky start, there’s lit­tle doubt the Shootout will be much more than an ex­hi­bi­tion race. It promised to pro­vide an ex­cit­ing start to Speed­weeks.

Mandi Singer/The Cov­ing­ton News

Jumper: New­ton’s Omar Craw­ley re­leases a shot Fri­day night against Stephen­son dur­ing a 66-52 loss. Craw­ley fin­ished the game with seven points and three re­bounds.

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