NASCAR's 2012 season gets fully under way with the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona International Speedway, with practice occurring, the field set by a random draw later Friday evening and Jimmie Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports team already in hot water for a rules infraction.
FIVE-CAR WRECK ENDS FIRST PRACTICE – Some of the higher-profile drivers in Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout were caught up in a five-car accident toward the end of the first practice session. As teams experimented running in packs versus the two-car tandems that have dominated at the restrictor plate circuits the last several years, the combo of the two drafting styles led to this incident.
As Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart were gaining on Martin Truex Jr., Busch moved up the track and Stewart, unable to see him as he was tied to Busch's bumper, nudged the Phoenix Racing driver at his left rear quarter panel into a spin. Busch and Stewart came down the track, with the resulting collision also taking out both Penske Racing drivers, Brad Keselowski and AJ Allmendinger, and Busch's brother Kyle. Jeff Gordon narrowly avoided the accident on the apron.
Both Penske drivers and both Busch brothers were set to go to their backup cars, while Stewart's own Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet was repaired. Kyle Busch explained the incident from his perspective.
“The 51 and 14 had got a big run on the 56 (Truex) down the back,” he said. “The 56 came up to block, and Kurt went up, so the two offset. They got connected. It was a bit of a mishmash. The hole opened up, and it closed fast.”
Matt Kenseth led the first practice at 201.762mph, with Jamie McMurray leading the rain-shortened second session at 197.648. Only nine minutes of running clicked off in the second session.
VIOLATION FOR JOHNSON'S TEAM – Jimmie Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports team found itself in hot water, if not immediately penalized, for an infraction that caused its Daytona 500 car to fail tech inspection on Friday. NASCAR officials confiscated C-pillars, the posts that connect the roof to the rear deck lid, in between the side and rear windows, and determined they had been illegally modified. They were removed from the vehicle, but the team will be able to fly in replacement parts.
“There were some obvious modifications that the inspectors picked up on, and did some additional inspections with some gauges and stuff, and found that they were just too far out of tolerance to fix,” Sprint Cup director John Darby said. “So they were removed from the car.”
Penalties for Johnson's team, led by crew chief Chad Knaus, haven't been foreign at Daytona before. In 2006, the car failed post-qualifying tech inspection due to an illegal rear window area modification. Nonetheless, with Knaus suspended and replaced by Darian Grubb, Johnson went on to win that year's Daytona 500 and later the first of his five successive championships.
TRUEX DRAWS SHOOTOUT POLE – Martin Truex Jr. drew the pole position for Saturday's Budweiser Shootout in a televised event featuring all 25 starters. Truex, who drives for Michael Waltrip Racing, picked 18th. Kyle Busch will start second, ahead of Brad Keselowski, Jamie McMurray and David Ragan in the top five. Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr., AJ Allmendinger and Joey Logano complete the top 10 on the grid.
MYERS LOSES SON – FOX Sports host Chris Myers will miss all broadcasts in the lead-up to, and including the Daytona 500. Myers' 19-year-old son, Christopher, was killed Thursday in a car accident. Myers will be given as much time off as he needs, with SPEED host John Roberts to fill in in the interim.