Wrecks, tempers providing volatile start for Speedweeks
NASCAR giving ability to let drivers showemotion
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.
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.