For one, Daytona drama means ‘an awesome 500’

Drivers struggle to control their new Gen-6 racecar

Denny Hamlin so far has avoided the wreckage that has come with drivers learning how to handle their new Generation-6 racecars. “We as drivers, it is our responsibility to learn how to drive them,” Hamlin’s colleague Carl Edwards said Wednesday from Daytona Beach, Fla. Enlarge photo

John Raoux/Associated Press

Denny Hamlin so far has avoided the wreckage that has come with drivers learning how to handle their new Generation-6 racecars. “We as drivers, it is our responsibility to learn how to drive them,” Hamlin’s colleague Carl Edwards said Wednesday from Daytona Beach, Fla.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It took all of 15 minutes for NASCAR’s new Gen-6 racecar to throw drivers a few curves of its own at the first practice for the Daytona 500.

Ryan Newman lost control of his Chevrolet right in front of Carl Edwards and Mark Martin, and all three cars sustained damage. It’s the third time in a week that a wreck has collected Martin, who also suffered damaged cars in a crash started by Matt Kenseth last week and another triggered by Tony Stewart in Saturday night’s exhibition race.

Newman had no idea what caused him to spin.

“My car came around; I don’t know if it was the air off of Carl’s car or what,” he said. “Carl came over and said, ‘Hey man.’ I said, ‘I don’t even know what to tell you yet.’”

The accident happened as drivers still are adjusting to the new car, a process that has been bumpy so far. Dale Earnhardt Jr. triggered a multicar accident in January testing, Kenseth started an accident last Friday, and the wreck in the exhibition race cut the 19-car field to 12.

Edwards was just as vexed as Newman.

“I was up close to Ryan, and then all of a sudden his car just got a little loose, and there was no space,” Edwards said. “I could have given him more space, but I don’t think either one of us really understands why his car got so loose. It was just all of a sudden, and he was turned sideways. It’s really interesting and something I’m going to be careful of during the race.”

Edwards said he believes the finicky cars could contribute to an entertaining season-opening Daytona 500 on Sunday.

“Racecars are supposed to be hard to drive; it’s supposed to be on the edge; you are supposed to be sliding around,” Edwards said. “We as drivers, it is our responsibility to learn how to drive them. If this (warm) weather stays like this and we can run cars sideways down the corner and give each other a little bit of room, it’s going to be an awesome 500.”

Meanwhile, Earnhardt and defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski also had issues in the first practice session, which was paced by two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip.

Earnhardt blew an engine.

Keselowski had a fuel system problem that limited his time on the racetrack.

“Something went wrong with the fuel system in the car,” Keselowski said. “That’s not what you want when you’re in front of the pack because when your car slows down, they’ve got nowhere to go, and it could cause a wreck. So we’re going to spend a little extra time to make sure we’ve got whatever it is figured out.”

Earnhardt had to wait for an engine change, which will send him to the back of the field for today’s qualifying race.

“I’m sure there is some logical explanation as to what happened, but we’ll just put a new one in and start at the back of the qualifier and race up through there,” Earnhardt said.

Waltrip was fastest in the first practice session, turning a lap at 198.347 mph.

Kasey Kahne led the less-eventful second practice – only 27 of 45 drivers practiced – with a lap at 197.737 mph.

It was Danica Patrick who impressed in the second session. She was fourth on the speed chart, but her 10-lap average of 195.775 mph led all drivers. Patrick last Sunday was fastest in qualifying and became the first woman to win a pole in NASCAR’s top Sprint Cup series.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. had to wait for an engine change during Wednesday’s practice for the Daytona 500, which will send him to the back of the field for Thursday’s qualifying race. “We’ll just put a new one in and start at the back of the qualifier and race up through there,” Earnhardt said. Enlarge photo

Terry Renna/Associated Press

Dale Earnhardt Jr. had to wait for an engine change during Wednesday’s practice for the Daytona 500, which will send him to the back of the field for Thursday’s qualifying race. “We’ll just put a new one in and start at the back of the qualifier and race up through there,” Earnhardt said.