Dale Earnhardt Jr. Crashes in Practice, Will Start Daytona 500 in Back
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Daytona 500 pole-winning Chevy was involved in a crash Wednesday afternoon and sustained enough damage that the team had to go to a back-up car and will now have to start both Thursday's Gatorade Duel qualifying race and Sunday's Daytona 500 from the back of the field instead of from the front.
Earnhardt's No. 88 AMP Energy Chevy was riding second in a two-car draft behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson when they slowed to avoid traffic. The two cars behind them -- Martin Truex Jr. and Brian Vickers --- didn't react quickly enough and Truex hit Earnhardt from behind, sending both cars into the inside wall.
Because of the unique qualifying format for the Daytona 500, only the two fastest cars officially "qualified" for the 500 during Sunday's time trials -- polewinner Earnhardt and second fastest Jeff Gordon. NASCAR rules state that if a driver has to switch from the car he qualified in, then he must drop to the rear of the field for the green flag. When that happens, the third place starter -- which will be determined in Thursday's Gatorade Duel 150-mile qualifying race -- will move up into the first position alongside Gordon for the start of the Daytona 500.
Earnhardt, who had won his first career superspeedway pole, said he had a bad feeling about even running in the rain-delayed practice Wednesday.
"We've got the pole-sitting race car, we didn't need practice,'' an obviously frustrated Earnhardt said, 'I had a fast car and I didn't want to practice it.
"I had a bad feeling about it and we come running up on some guys that didn't have their heads on straight and got into an accident.''
And now, "Get the next one ready,'' he said shaking his head.
According to a team spokesman, the back-up car Earnhardt is using in Wednesday's second practice session has not been tested this season. The team was transporting the car he wrecked in Saturday's Budweiser Shootout back to Daytona Beach as a back-up to the back-up. It had been on its way back to Hendrick Motorsports in Charlotte, N.C.
"Well, we've got plenty of race cars,'' Earnhardt said. "I ain't worried about how fast we'll be or whether we'll be as good. We'll be fine. But you know, it never feels good tearing them up."
Earnhardt, who drew the pole position for Saturday's Budweiser Shootout 75-lap non-points event, was hit from behind by Carl Edwards about a third of the way into the race and finished that night in the garage.
"Just feeling a little snake-bit right now because I don't feel like I was really at fault in any of them but we just keep getting in them,'' Earnhardt said.
Truex, who also had to switch to a back-up of his No. 56 NAPA Toyota, came over to speak with Earnhardt as their crews looked over their cars. The two spoke and Earnhardt patted Truex on the back before they parted ways. Earnhardt owned the car that Truex drove to the 2004-2005 Nationwide Series championships.
Johnson came over to look at Earnhardt's car following practice and sounded nearly as frustrated as Earnhardt.
"That was so avoidable, that didn't need to happen,'' said Johnson, whose No. 48 Lowe's Chevy was not damaged in Earnhardt's accident, but will start in the rear of Thursday's Gatorade Duel because of an engine change after the second practice.
"It's a new game. and we had enough experience in the Shootout and practice to know the spotter's job is far more important and covers a lot more areas than it ever has.''
Kasey Kahne's No. 4 Red Bull Toyota posted the fastest lap of the day at 200.067 mph, followed by Joey Logano and Gordon. David Regan and Kyle Busch rounded out the top-five Earnhardt did not participate in the second session.