In Daytona, NASCAR off to rainy start

Truex, Wal­lace are fastest as sea­son of change gets un­der­way


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

Martin Truex Jr. topped the speed chart in his debut for Joe Gibbs Rac­ing, and Bubba Wal­lace 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 sea­sonopen­ing Daytona 500.

Kurt Busch, win­ner of the Daytona 500 just 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 multi-car ac­ci­dent less than an hour into open­ing day. El­liott said he crowded New­man in traf­fic 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 to­day’s al­ls­tar event.

Ham­lin was only on track to test his car in traf­fic, a move that ended in crum­pled sheet metal but one he de­fended as the right de­ci­sion.

“I’m a huge ad­vo­cate of go­ing out there in the pack,” Ham­lin said. “These things hap­pen.”

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

Ryan Truex is try­ing to join his brother in the Daytona 500 field, but his Tommy Bald­win Rac­ing team needed to bor­row a hauler to get to the track. TBR is eas­ing back into full-time rac­ing, and an 18-wheeler isn’t part of the ini­tial bud­get.

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, there’s a pos­si­bil­ity 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.

ARCA: Har­ri­son Burton opened Speed­Weeks at Daytona with a vic­tory in the sea­son opener.

Burton turned 18 in Oc­to­ber to meet the age re­quire­ment to race on the big­gest and fastest NASCAR-sanc­tioned tracks. Ven­turini Mo­tor­sports signed him to a five-race ARCA deal.

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