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Friday, Dec 09, 2016

Feeling things out

DAYTONA BEACH - It took about 10 minutes to wreck several cars at Daytona International Speedway on Friday. Matt Kenseth triggered a five-car accident in the opening practice for the Sprint Unlimited, the non-points race that kicks off the season. Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Mark Martin and Juan Pablo Montoya also were involved in the crash. Busch's No. 78 Chevrolet sustained the most damage, forcing the team to switch to a backup car for tonight's exhibition event. Edwards and Martin also went to backups.
"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." Kenseth took blame for the melee, saying he didn't see Busch gaining ground inside his No. 20 Toyota on the 21/2-mile superspeedway. "That was 100 percent driver error, my driver error," Kenseth said. "I had no idea anybody was there, and he had a run at the same time and I came down in front of him and he couldn't get slowed up from staying out of me. It was a hundred percent my fault." The accident came less than 10 laps into the first practice of Speedweeks. It was supposed to be a learning session for NASCAR's redesigned race car, the one dubbed "Generation 6," and a preview of next weekend's Daytona 500. Instead, it turned out much like a test at Daytona last month. Dale Earnhardt Jr. caused that big one when he turned Marcos Ambrose, causing a 12-car wreck that essentially ended the three-day session. Teams returned to the track this week in hopes of learning more about the new cars, which have been tweaked to more closely resemble those that are in manufacturer showrooms. They also have different driving characteristics. The biggest issue, especially for those teams with damaged cars, could be a lack of inventory. NASCAR's development process took time, and outside vendors struggled early on to keep up with demand. The season-opening event used to be called the Budweiser Shootout. NASCAR changed the name this year, along with the entry rules. The sanctioning body went back to race's roots, inviting polewinners from the previous season and event winners who raced at least once the previous season to enter. Five-time series champion Jimmie Johnson, four-time champion Jeff Gordon and three-time champion Tony Stewart are in the field. So are two-time race winner Kevin Harvick and Earnhardt Jr. Reigning Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski, though, didn't earn a spot in the retooled race. The 75-lap race will be divided into three segments, and fans were given unprecedented say in determining aspects of the format. NASCAR is holding open voting to determine the lineup and what kind of pit stop teams will be allowed to make after the first 35-lap segment. Fans also can decide how many cars are eliminated after the second, 30-lap segment. But none of that should affect the bottom line, which is getting better prepared for the Daytona 500. "I think it is going to show how the cars are going to draft and how they are going to run," Montoya said. "I'm glad I'm in it."