DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The 34 teams at Friday’s test session held back for as long as they could before turning their drivers loose at the Daytona International Speedway.
It didn’t take long to verify a lot of the apprehension.
It started when Greg Biffle spun out on the third lap and ended with a 12-car pileup on the backstretch.
And in the middle were a lot of other anxious moments.
After spending a day and-a-half on single-car runs, a portion of the afternoon session was spent on gathering information on multi-car packs. It was clear from the start NASCAR’s new generation race car will be a handful.
Biffle was in the middle of a 14-car draft when his Ford suddenly veered out of control coming off the fourth turn.
Minutes later, 12 cars in an 18-car draft were involved in a big crash.
“That was the strangest feeling I’ve had in a race car,” Biffle said. “The car felt like it was floating. It just took off. These cars are hard to drive.”
The multi-car accident started on the backstretch when Dale Earnhardt Jr. tried to give Marcus Ambrose a bump. That turned Ambrose sideways – and in front of on-coming traffic. Cars driven by Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Jeff Gordon, Jamie McMurray, Regan Smith, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Aric Almirola and Martin Truex Jr. were involved.
“There’s a roll bar on the front end of my car and his car,” Earnhardt said. “That’s the first time I pushed it forward and his car sat up on top of that roll bar. And then I was kind of wheel-barreling him around a little bit and we ended up getting turned I guess.
“For whatever reason, our two cars didn't work together very well.”
The new cars, which were re-designed to highlight manufacturer identity, proved to be very twitchy in traffic. In fact, at times it was common to see several cars fishtailing through the corners.
The new generation car has a lot more downforce on the front nose. The rear trunk deck has a smaller spoiler and NASCAR remains so concerned about keeping the back ends light all trunk decks are allocated from NASCAR.
“The sport is rewinding,” Keselowski said. “I think we as drivers have to rewind to how we drive those cars. This is how you do it. You make mistakes and learn, and that is part of it.
“It is unfortunate that there are torn up cars, but let’s be honest: it is January and we have another month-and-a-half to build them right. Nobody in the field was going to race these cars anyway.”
McMurray’s car was so out of control in Turn 4 on one lap, the No. 1 on his passenger door was visible on pit road.
Dave Blaney also crashed during the single-car morning session.
All but one team at Preseason Thunder brought just one car to the test. NASCAR released the first round of the rear decks a week ago so teams don’t have any backups built yet.
With so many cars tearing up their only trunk deck, some now must wait until next Friday to get one from the next scheduled batch.
“Now you’re further behind than we’ve been in any other year,” McMurray said.
After the massive crash, the handful of remaining teams decided to go back to single-car runs.
The front and rear bumpers are slightly rounded, which makes bump-drafting problematic. Last year’s car had squared bumpers which made it easy for one car to push another. Now when cars try to push each other, the rounded bumpers have a tendency to turn the lead car.
“Getting the bumpers lined up and how hard you can hit someone is something we all have to learn,” Truex said.
“You cannot push with these cars,” Biffle said. “It lifts the front car and turns them around.”
Edwards said the new body styles will be tough on car builders, but great for fans.
“The cars are stuck less and they are looser,” he said. “That is good for racing. It is good for the fans. It will make it more exciting and make pit strategy come into play.
“I like that the cars were sliding around and hard to drive. It will make for a fun race.”
The track will be open at 9 a.m. today for the final day of testing. Since most teams are out of cars, only a few are expected to return.