[media-credit id=22 align=”alignright” width=”225″][/media-credit]After waiting several hours for the weather to clear, Sprint Cup practice for the Gatorade Duels finally started. It took only a few moments before the new “love bug” drafting claimed its first victims.
Coming off turn four, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was linked nose to tail with Jimmie Johnson. Just as Earnhardt Jr. started to move left, Martin Truex Jr. came hard into his right rear bumper and sent both cars spinning into the infield wall, just at the entrance to pit road.
NASCAR started the day by issuing teams smaller sized restrictor plates, 57/64 diameters, along with mandated smaller radiator grill openings.
These changes were implemented in an effort to slow the 200+ mph race speeds and reduce the two by two drafting to a minimum.
Unexpected rain showers had dampened the speedway and delayed early morning practice for several hours.
Once the track was cleared for practice, it didn’t take long for teams to start testing their new restrictor plates and resume their two-by-two drafting around the 2.5 mile super speedway.
After just a few green flag laps, it was once again Earnhardt Jr. posting the fastest times with speeds in excess of 195 mph.
Once he was tagged in the rear bumper, the car of Earnhardt Jr. went tail first into the inside retaining wall, bounced off and then collected the car of Martin Truex Jr. with the front bumper of the No. 88 Amp Energy Chevrolet.
With his primary car all but destroyed, Jr’s Hendrick Motorsports crew immediately pulled out a back up car.
Qualifying for the front row of Sunday’s Daytona 500 has already been completed, and, with Dale Jr. winning the pole position, this unfortunate series of events will have huge impacts on tomorrows first Gatorade Duel and Sunday’s Daytona 500.
Earnhardt Jr. will be relegated to the rear of the field in both events.
His efforts in the Gatorade Duel will have no impact on this situation. According to NASCAR rules, Earnhardt Jr. cannot improve his starting position unless some other unfortunate driver crashes, changes an engine or has to go to a back up car.
No one has ever come from the last starting position to win the Daytona 500.