11:52 PM EST, January 11, 2013
DAYTONA BEACH — The restrictor-plate monster known as Daytona gobbled up a bunch of fancy new cars that were testing late Friday for the 2013 NASCAR season.
Life was good for a while with the new models and their modified setups while drivers went on solo runs Thursday and Friday. Then a group of them decided to give pack racing a try Friday afternoon.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. gave Marcos Ambrose a draft-pack bump, sending his Ford out of control and triggering a 12-car pileup, or about a third of the 35-car lineup for testing this week. The cars spun out of control and into the infield, giving testing at Daytona a frustrating twist.
As the marketing plan goes, "Daytona Preseason Thunder" indeed.
"It's a Daytona thing," Mark Martin said. "That's Daytona. That doesn't have nothing to do with the new cars or anything else. That's just normal Daytona stuff."
Perhaps, but the fact is that the momentum and enthusiasm for the upcoming season vaporized in seconds, with teams now scrambling to get back to their shops to build cars, and drivers scrambling to get home and not take any more unnecessary chances.
The vast majority of teams don't have a backup car yet, so all that mangled metal was precious in prepping for the campaign.
Oh, well. Fans and drivers disenchanted with the monotonous grind of tandem racing on super-speedways may be careful about for what they wish.
"You definitely gotta be more careful pushing people," Earnhardt said. "The cars are really tail-happy and real loose because of the downforce they have on the back of the cars. So they're a little bit more of a handful, especially in the draft toward the back where the air is real dirty. And so you got to work on your car a little bit, I guess, to get it hooked up. ...
"We'll go back to single-car runs. I don't think anybody wants any more drafting after that."
Therein lies the quandary for NASCAR's competition crew: Where do they find the balance of discouraging the tandem drafting with the alternative brand of traditional pack racing that can also bring unintended consequences? Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition, said that there will be no changes made to the cars for Saturday, the final day of testing.
"The sport is rewinding," 2012 Cup champ Brad Keselowski said. "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 2000s when the fans enjoyed the racing better."
One of the smartest guys in the garage was Jimmie Johnson, who limited his track time to single-car runs and whose No. 48 Chevy was safely parked in the garage when cars started flying around.
"You're just taking a chance of ruining your best race car," he said earlier in the day. "Generally speaking, we just don't have any cars. This is our only speedway car for the 48 car. We want to have that as a backup when we come back. ... We just don't have the inventory."
Johnson should consider himself fortunate.
A number of drivers definitely have a lot less inventory after Friday's fiasco.