Five Cars Crash During Daytona Practice
Wed Feb 12, 3:44 AM ET
By KEITH PARSONS, AP Sports Writer
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Jeff Burton jumped out of his car after the first big wreck of Speedweeks, then walked over to see if Elliott Sadler was OK.
When Sadler also climbed out unscathed Tuesday, Burton angrily described the crash to Sadler with his hands, ramming them together to show how the two cars made contact.
Also involved were Jack Sprague, Mike Skinner and Steve Park were able to drive their cars back to the garage, where many hours of repairs were waiting.
"I don't know what happened," Sadler said. "I just wish people would use their heads more."
Ah, welcome to Daytona.
With about five minutes left in practice — the first drafting session of the week for the majority of the drivers — Sprague and Park helped start the chain reaction crash by bumping just before the cars entered Turn 1 at Daytona International Speedway.
The other three cars suffered the most damage, forcing their teams to roll out backups for the remainder of the events.
"There's quite a bit of work that has to go on with the backup car to get it ready, but not a tremendous amount," Burton said. "The big problem is if you have a problem with this car, then what do you do?
"I don't know what we would do if that happens. We only have two cars."
As is often the case, the exact cause of the wreck remained in dispute in the immediate aftermath. About 15 cars were running in a tight pack, running two- and three-wide for several laps. Skinner, who had just returned to the track, was a bit off the pace of the bottom, trying to blend in with the draft.
Park and Sprague already were side-by-side, jockeying for position as they crossed the finish line and approached Skinner.
What's not in doubt is that the cars of Park and Sprague touched, with the right-front tire of Sprague's Pontiac bumping the left rear of Park's Chevrolet.
Sprague had his view, as did Park.
"There wasn't a lot of room, because Park kind of ran us out of room," Sprague said.
"I'm pretty confident in the fact that I was where I needed to be," was Park's response.
Either way, the end result was the same. Sprague veered sharply to the left, nudging Skinner's Pontiac in the right rear. That turned Skinner back across the track, and when he lost control, Sadler and Burton had nowhere to go.
It's the second straight year Sadler and Burton will have to use backup cars in the Daytona 500. Both were involved in practice wrecks in 2002.
"Sprague got in the side of Skinner on the short chute and turned Skinner sideways," Burton said. "That got the track all blocked up and there was nowhere for anybody to go, so everybody plowed into everybody.
"I tell you one thing, I'm tired of getting wrecked in practice."
Sadler was equally distraught. Before he had jumped in the ambulance on the track for the mandatory trip to the infield medical center, his Robert Yates Racing crew was lowering another car out of the hauler.
This is Sadler's first race with the team, which has won the Great American Race three times since 1992.
"I'm going to tell you what, that thing was a rocket," Sadler said of his heavily damaged Ford. "Every lap we were out there we were pretty much in the front.
"I decided to drift to the back a little bit just to see what my car would do around a lot of turbulence, and right at that time, the wreck happened."
Park might have been so quick to blame Sprague because he's a Winston Cup rookie, a driver who's never run in the Daytona 500. At 38, he's made only six starts in NASCAR's top division.
But he's also won two Craftsman Truck series titles in the past four years, and finished fifth in the Busch Series standings in 2002.
"I just thought it was unnecessary closeness," Park said. "It's just one of those deals, the pack gets bunched up here. Just look at the experienced guys and the lack-of-experience guys, and who does what."
"Steve Park came off the wall there and caught me in the right front," he said. "You ought to know you're three-wide and stay against the wall."