DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Jimmie Johnson's quest for a fifth straight NASCAR championship will begin in a backup car.
Johnson was involved in the latest wreck at Daytona International Speedway on Wednesday, doing enough damage that crew chief Chad Knaus decided to scrap the primary car for Sunday's season-opening race.
"I was just riding along and thought everything was fine, and the next thing you know, I was in the middle of it," Johnson said.
Joey Logano and Kyle Busch also got caught up in the accident during the second practice at Daytona International Speedway. Mike Bliss triggered it when he lost control of his car coming out of a turn. Bliss turned sideways, seemingly got tapped by Derrick Cope, then shot across the track and rammed into Logano.
Logano also was forced into a backup car. Busch's car sustained minor damage, and he was back on the track a few minutes later.
The two practice sessions had several other harrowing moments.
Clint Bowyer started a three-car accident in the first session when he cut a tire, hit the wall and collected David Reutimann and 1990 Daytona 500 champion Derrick Cope. Bowyer and Reutimann went to backup cars.
Two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip and fan favourite Dale Earnhardt Jr. narrowly avoided wrecks in the second session. Waltrip spun and drove through the infield grass, but managed to not hit anything. Earnhardt got a little sideways after getting bumped from behind by Denny Hamlin, but Junior got the car straightened out at 190 m.p.h.
Earnhardt said over his radio that Hamlin "doesn't know how to bump draft."
"I think he made an aggressive move with (Martin Truex Jr.) and I followed him," Hamlin said. "I think I was pushing him and he was steering all over the racetrack and it just may have lifted his car up at that point. But a relatively good save."
A few minutes later, when asked about his bump-drafting technique, Hamlin joked that, "Dale Jr. said I (stink) at it."
Last month, NASCAR relaxed its rules on bump-drafting and gave drivers permission to be more aggressive. The changes have been evident at Daytona.
Hamlin and Daytona 500 pole-sitter Mark Martin started a seven-car accident last week during the first practice for the exhibition Budweiser Shootout. Logano, Busch, Bowyer, Greg Biffle and Jamie McMurray also were part of that one. The accident prompted Biffle to say, "Trust me, we're not finished."
He was right.
The Shootout ended under caution after Jeff Gordon hit Biffle and started an eight-car accident behind eventual winner Kevin Harvick. Throw in the latest practice sessions, and Thursday's 150-mile qualifying races could provide drivers with chaotic rides.
"I think it will be relatively wide," Hamlin said. "You'll see it's very, very wild, but it's going to be mid-pack around those guys that are fighting to get in."