DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — A three-day test at Daytona International Speedway came to an unexpected early end for many NASCAR teams on Friday.
During the afternoon session, which featured teams drafting in a pack for the first time, Dale Earnhardt Jr. attempted to “bump draft” with Marcos Ambrose and instead hooked Ambrose’s No. 9 Ford and sent it into the wall.
The incident collected 12 of the 18 cars that were on the track at the time.
This wouldn’t be a problem most years, but with the new 2013 model cars still being built, almost all of the teams involved did not have backup cars available.
Before the day was over, Michael Waltrip Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports and the teams of Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne and Jamie McMurray were among those already making their way back to North Carolina.
“We were going around (Turns) 1 and 2 and I thought Marcos was backing up to me and looking to get a run on the back straightaway. I tried to push him a little bit and I had a hard time getting our bumpers lined up,” Earnhardt said.
“I was hoping I didn’t start it and I don’t know if I did but it tore up a lot of cars that were out here trying to work.”
About 14 cars tried a drafting session at the 1 p.m. start, and it became clear the new cars were far more sensitive to the “bump-drafting” that has become commonplace on NASCAR’s superspeedways in recent seasons.
NASCAR officials on Thursday had said the design of the new car was planned to help eliminate that practice.
“You definitely have to be more careful pushing people,” Earnhardt said. “The cars are really loose – they are a little bit more of a handful, especially in the draft.”
With final approval only given on several parts of the new models last month, teams have been scurrying to get cars ready for this test and another next week at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
It was unclear how or if Friday’s incident will set team’s schedules back.
Asked if bump-drafting was a thing of the past, reigning series champion Brad Keselowski said, “I think you can see from Dale that you can do it, but we are all learning the consequences and nobody wants to be that guy.
“Unfortunately, somebody has to be that guy. That is the way it is.”
In the first drafting session, Trevor Bayne posted the fastest average lap speed at 199.650 mph. He was not on the track during the drafting session that ended with a wreck.
Five-time series champion Jimmie Johnson was among those who never had any intention of participating in the drafting sessions for fear of losing a car.
“For us, it makes no sense to go out there and draft because you aren’t going to learn anything. You’re just taking a chance of ruining your best race car,” Johnson said.
“Generally speaking, we just don’t have any cars. This is our only speedway car for the No. 48 car. We want to have that as a backup when we come back.”
The remaining teams continued with single-car runs the rest of Friday. Teams can continue to test from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.