DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Tony Stewart wasn’t in a very good mood during Daytona 500 media day on Thursday.Friday didn’t wind up being any better.
In the second of two significant incidents during final practice for the season-opening Budweiser Shootout, Stewart and Kurt Busch tangled while jockeying for position.
Busch’s Dodge was the more seriously damaged in the incident heading into Turn 3, but he tried to even that up by banging into the side of Stewart’s Toyota as their cars came toward pit road.
Both drivers were immediately summoned to a meeting with NASCAR officials.
“What a great way to start the 2008 season!” Busch said, clapping his hands as he climbed out of his car.
After exiting the NASCAR hauler, neither driver made additional comments.
“It will be interesting to see how this all unfolds,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said after barely steering clear of the incident.
That’s a good point, since NASCAR chairman Brian France said before the season that officials planned to allow drivers to display their personalities more freely this year.
Last season, when Busch drove his car toward Stewart’s on pit road following an on-track incident, Busch was fined $100,000 and docked 100 driver points for that incident.
What will happen this time?
“This is the NASCAR everybody fell in love with,” NASCAR vice president for communications Jim Hunter said. “Emotions run high. What is said in there stays in there.
“As far as penalities, we will wait and see. We will meet with both drivers again tomorrow.”
Earlier, at least three teams were forced into backup cars for Saturday night’s race in a crash involving at least eight cars. That incident began when Clint Bowyer made contact with the left-rear quarterpanel of Ryan Newman’s Dodge, which got down on the apron and then spun across the track.
“I am not exactly sure what happened, but I know the No. 24 Chevrolet is junk,” Gordon said of his primary car.
"I think we’re going to see a lot of things like this happening. ...There’s a lot of moving around going on out there. I’ve been saying this is going to be exciting and I think we have a lot of excitement left.”
Gordon, Newman and Jimmie Johnson lost the use of the cars they intended to run Saturday. Martin Truex Jr., Carl Edwards, Bill Elliott and David Gilliland all got a piece of the incident. Truex also picked up at least some damage from the Busch-Stewart incident.
Stewart, scheduled to start 11th, had complained Thursday about being asked the same old questions – questions he said it’s too soon for anyone to answer – time and time again as the new Sprint Cup season approaches.
Questions, for instance, like how someone driving a Toyota will be able to the give that manufacturer its first victory in Cup competition after a winless inaugural year.
"I don’t feel like we’re going to have a clue until we get 8, 10 or 12 races into the season,” said Stewart, who along with Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch will be among the Toyota drivers this year. “It’ll take that long until we truly know.”
Saturday night’s Shootout might help being the process of figuring all that out, however.
“It’s important to get time in the new car and find out how it’s going to drive,” Stewart said. “We’ll know what we’ll be trying to tune for and how the cars are going to react in different spots in the draft, how it will run on the top after long runs around the bottom and whether you can run in the middle.
“If a see a line coming up you say, ‘That’s a line that’s going to keep going, it’s not going to stop when it gets here.’ You learn when to move and when not to move. ...There are things you’re not going to learn in practice that you’re going to learn when you’re in a race situation.”