In recent seasons, the Daytona 500 150-mile qualifying races often have turned out to be low-key affairs.
If Wednesday’s Sprint Cup Series practices are any indication, the races’ move to Thursday night this season could produce an elaborate fireworks display – before the races have ended.
Within the first 25 minutes of the day’s first practice, two accidents had collected a total of 10 cars, including a seven-car wreck left that sent Parker Kligerman’s No. 30 Toyota smashing into the frontstretch catchfence and energy-absorbing SAFER barrier before landing upside down on its roof.
No one was injured, although a small section of chain link fencing was torn open. The first practice was halted early as repairs were completed.
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The three-wide racing which produced the incidents raised the ire of several drivers.
“This is only practice right?” six-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said in message posted on his Twitter account after the second incident.
For Kligerman, it was the first time he had flipped in a car.
“I guess from what I could see (Joey Logano) was just being overly aggressive and it’s a shame,” Kligerman said. “He’s supposed to be a veteran. You have a guy who in practice is racing people like it’s the last lap of the Daytona 500.
“Thankfully, none of the fans got injured. It was a scary situation when a car gets that close to the fence. Then it just flipped over softly, and I slid on the roof.”
The accident served as an eerie reminder of the last-lap wreck on the frontstretch of last February’s Nationwide Series opener that also tore a hole in the fence and sent debris into the grandstands, injuring two dozen fans.
There were only a few fans on hand for Wednesday’s practices and none in the area of the accident.
The big wreck appeared to get triggered when Logano’s car hit Matt Kenseth’s from behind, knocking Kenseth’s car loose and sending several nearby cars spinning.
“I had the run, so I was going to fill that hole and then (Kenseth) started to come back up, and I was there,” Logano said. “Maybe I shouldn’t have been racing as hard as I was in practice, but everybody was in a big pack there trying to make things happen.
“As soon as (Kenseth) came back up, I checked up a little bit, and then (Trevor Bayne) hit me from behind and we spun out. It happens. That’s Daytona for you.”
The wrecks were particularly troublesome for drivers Bayne, Cole Whitt, Ryan Truex and Dave Blaney, all of whom need to earn a spot in the 500 with a good finish in Thursday night’s races.
Blaney’s Humphrey-Smith Racing team did not immediately have a back-up car to use. His team was working to obtain another car Wednesday night.
In the first wreck, Whitt’s car spun and collected that of Brian Vickers, causing extensive damage to both. Jeff Gordon’s car caught a piece of debris in his front hood, which required some minor repairs.
Logano, Paul Menard, Vickers, Truex, Kligerman and Blaney will have to start from the rear of the field of their respective qualifying races for using back-up cars.
Daytona 500 pole winner Austin Dillon will start from the pole of the first 150-mile race. Martin Truex Jr. will lead the second race to the green flag.