By Mark Long, AP
DAYTONA BEACH, Florida — Dale Earnhardt Jr. started a 12-car accident at Daytona International Speedway on Friday that essentially shut down a three-day test session meant to hone NASCAR’s redesigned cars.
Stock-car racing’s most popular driver was trying to bump draft with Marcus Ambrose on the back straightaway when he lifted Ambrose “like a forklift” and turned him into the wall. Ambrose’s Ford bounced back across the track and triggered a pileup that collected a host of others.
“It was a big mess and tore up a lot of cars down here trying to work on their stuff,” Earnhardt said. “Definitely the drafting is not like it used to be. You can’t really tandem certain cars; certain cars don’t match up well.”
Two of Earnhardt’s Hendrick Motorsports teammates, Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne, also were involved. So were defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski, new teammate Joey Logano, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Jamie McMurray, Martin Truex Jr., Aric Almirola and Regan Smith.
There were no injuries, but the wreck caused several teams to leave Daytona. At least 10 teams, including Michael Waltrip Racing, Penske Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports, packed up their haulers and headed back to North Carolina.
“It is unfortunate, but sometimes you have to wreck them to learn,” Keselowski said. “The sport is rewinding. That is the important thing to say. The sport advanced to the two-car tandem three or four years ago, and there were certain things you could do then that you couldn’t do in the past without wrecking.
“Now the rules package is back to where we were in the early 2000’s when the fans enjoyed the racing better. We as drivers have to rewind to how we used to drive these cars. This is how you do it. You make mistakes and learn and that is part of it. I might be the guy who makes the mistake next time, so I can’t be mad about it.”
Manufacturers Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota are using new cars in 2013, ones that have unique front ends that make race cars more closely resemble those on the streets and in the showroom.
The new cars have considerably less downforce than their predecessors and perform differently on the track. The previous models had identical designs that made it easier for bump drafting because the front and rear bumpers lined up squarely.