DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Nine minutes.
That’s how long it took before NASCAR’s new version of race car – known as the “Generation Six” – was involved in a crash at Daytona Int’l Speedway to officially christen Speedweeks for 2013. It was none other than defending Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth that triggered the five-car pileup in the first practice for Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited – the annual preseason shootout that this year pits 19 drivers from last year’s pole winner and previous winners of either the Budweiser Shootout or the Busch Clash.
The actually race format, pit stop strategy and elimination is determined by fan voting at NASCAR.com/SprintUnlimited or the new NASCAR Mobile 13 app with some of the voting not closing until the green flag of the second segment on Saturday night.
The format of the race will be three segments of 30 laps, 25 laps and a final 20-lap segment.
There were two practice sessions on Friday including one that concluded at 7:30 p.m. But it was the first practice session that began late Friday afternoon when the crash occurred off the fourth turn as Kenseth, in his first race with Joe Gibbs Racing, came off the fourth turn and attempted to fall in line in front of Kurt Busch in the Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet. The two cars made contact and that created a crash that also involved Carl Edwards, Mark Martin and Juan Pablo Montoya.
Edwards, Busch and Martin opted for backup cars while Kenseth and Montoya’s crews repaired the damage on their machines.
“I guess Kurt got a run underneath me when I was just kind of messing around there,” Kenseth said. “I came down in front of him as he was getting a big run. I just never saw him. I was focused on the 18 (Kyle Busch) in front of me and nobody was getting very big runs at all. I was just looking at the 18 and trying to do some different things and think about my car. Nobody had really made a serious run on us before that so I just had no idea he was there.
“That had nothing to do with these race cars – that was 100 percent driver error and my driver error. I had no idea anybody was there and he had a run at the same time. I came down in front of him and he couldn’t get slowed up from staying out of me so it was 100 percent my fault. It wouldn’t have mattered what kind of car we were driving. If you driven down in front of somebody, they are going to hit you.”
Busch was checked and released from the care center and talked about the incident.
“It’s tough,” Busch said. “A lot of hard work goes into these cars, and six weeks of preparation can be trashed in six laps. Matt went high, and I think he expected me to go with him.
“I went low to go with Kyle, and then Matt came across our nose.”
Edwards was one of the “innocent bystanders” in the crash.
“I didn’t see anything,” Edwards said. “I should have been listening to my spotter Jason Hedlesky because he said, ‘watch ‘em, watch ‘em’ about two seconds before this happened. I just didn’t step on the brakes early enough. I don’t know exactly and Matt (Kenseth) probably had no clue that Kurt (Busch) was underneath him.
“That one little beat and I hit Mark (Martin) and I thought I was clear and you will see Kurt in front of me and he was sideways into the wall,” added Edwards. “It is pretty frustrating. The silver lining for us is that last year we came down here and we sat on the pole for the 500 and everything was cool and smooth and our year went terrible. Hopefully this is all our bad luck.”
Drivers ran in packs in the first practice but ran single-car laps in the evening session so the speeds are skewed.
Kevin Harvick was the fastest in the first practice at 197.364 mph in a Chevrolet followed by Aric Almirola’s Ford at 197.316 mph. Greg Biffle was third in another Ford at 197.109 mph followed by Kasey Kahne’s 197.040 mph. Martin Truex, Jr. rounded out the top five at 197.036 mph in a Toyota.
Hamlin was the fastest driver in the final practice at 196.053 mph in a Toyota followed by Joey Logano’s 196.014 mph in a Ford. Biffle’s Ford was third at 195.656 mph followed by Harvick’s Chevrolet at 195.656 mph and Almirola’s 195.537 mph in a Ford.
It’s an “All Skate” on Saturday as all cars entered in this year’s Daytona 500 get two practice sessions followed by the season opening ARCA Racing Series event and the Sprint Unlimited.