DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) Inclement weather washed out much of Sprint Cup practice Thursday at Daytona International Speedway.
The most laps any driver turned during the first of two practice sessions were 26, and the second one was canceled because of heavy rain around the famed track.
”We stayed out on the track until almost the end and there was a big lightning bolt out there in turn one and that was a pretty neat picture out of the window there,” Carl Edwards said.
Bad weather is fairly typical for the July race at Daytona, and teams seemed prepared for it.
The shortened practice had high speeds and tight-knit drafting, which Edwards said was because drivers knew the starting grid for Saturday night’s race would be determined by practice speeds if other sessions and qualifying get rained out Friday.
”If we do get to qualify, it is going to be crazy,” Edwards said. ”It is going to be interesting. You saw a glimpse of it there a minute ago with everyone pacing around and not wanting to be the rabbit out there. At the end of the day, this is what this new Chase format was made for, a race like this in the middle of the summer with guys that have to win and guys like myself with nothing to lose. It is going to be a crazy race.”
Aside from practice, here are five things to know about what’s happening at Daytona:
PACE SETTERS: The two cars from Chip Ganassi Racing led the field in the only Sprint Cup Series practice Thursday.
Jamie McMurray turned a lap at 201.954 mph and rookie Kyle Larson was second at 201.889 in the rain-shortened, 45-minute practice session. NASCAR had been scheduled to hold another 90-minute practice, but it was canceled because of severe weather.
Six other drivers eclipsed the 201 mph mark: Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon, Joey Logano, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Greg Biffle.
SAFER DAYTONA: Daytona International Speedway is seemingly safer these days.
The track recently installed 2,400 feet of Steel and Foam Energy Reduction (SAFER) barriers on the outside wall of the entire frontstretch.
Former Daytona 500 champion Kevin Harvick was outspoken after his February crash at the superspeedway, saying the soft walls should be everywhere, especially at high-speed tracks like Daytona and Talladega. Daytona added the extra SAFER barriers last month, but didn’t put any on the inside wall where Harvick took a hard hit during the season-opening Daytona 500.
Fellow driver Denny Hamlin broke his back in March 2013 after hitting a wall without any SAFER barriers at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. The speedway has since covered that area with the softer wall.
Tracks insist they follow NASCAR’s safety recommendations. NASCAR says it makes recommendations when it identifies areas that need improvement. The barriers are estimated to cost $500 per foot, which makes installing them everywhere somewhat cost prohibitive.
TWITTER PRO: It’s been a little more than four months since Dale Earnhardt Jr. started tweeting, and the two-time and reigning Daytona 500 champion doesn’t seem to be losing interest.
Junior’s Twitter following has grown from 235,000 to more than 700,000 and counting.
”Sometimes I feel like I’m tweeting too much,” he said Thursday. ”Sometimes I think Twitter has got filters on my account to keep me from seeing all the negative stuff. It’s fun. It’s been so positive. I really underestimated how enjoyable it would be. I enjoy sharing what I think’s cool and what’s important to me, and I enjoy seeing that feedback and having that conversational interaction about topics.”
NASCAR’s most popular driver had been reluctant to participate in social media for years. But he promised he would join Twitter if he won the Daytona 500. And after winning NASCAR’s most prestigious race for the second time in February, he followed through.
He’s sent more than 3,200 tweets since.
”It taps you into the heartbeat of everything, whether it’s what’s going on in here or what’s going in the garage or what some of the executives are thinking,” he said. ”It really gives you an idea of what direction everyone is going in. It’s pretty neat. I’m having fun with it. I’m just trying not to make any missteps. It’s been very positive.”
WHITE HOUSE: Jimmie Johnson probably doesn’t need a tour guide at the White House.
The six-time Sprint Cup champion made his latest visit to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue last week – and it was special because he got to take his entire Hendrick Motorsports team and his family.
”The experience was amazing to share with my family,” Johnson said Thursday. ”It was awesome. And in a few moments of private time that we all had together is something I’ll cherish forever.”
Johnson first visited the White House in 2003, when the series’ top 10 drivers in the final points standings were invited to Washington. Johnson made his first solo visit in 2007 after winning his first Cup title and has been a regular nearly every year since.
CHAMPS HONORED: Brian Vickers is bringing national champion Florida State along for a ride at Daytona.
Vickers’ No. 55 Toyota will feature a paint scheme honoring the college football champions for the Coke Zero 400.
”It’s always good to have the home state, at least where I live, on the car,” said Vickers, who lives in south Florida. ”It always bodes well for the fan interaction. We usually get some pretty great cheers out of it. It’s cool. What this team accomplished is no small feat, and the task we have ahead of us is no small feat. Putting this car in Victory Lane would be huge to the FSU fans, but also to this (team). A win at Daytona would be huge. We’re going to do everything we can to make it happen.”