DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Here are some things to know about what’s going on at Daytona International Speedway, where drivers are preparing for Sunday’s season-opening Daytona 500:
EARLY WRECK: Danica Patrick and Denny Hamlin wrecked during Daytona 500 practice Wednesday.
Patrick’s No. 10 Chevrolet sustained enough damage that she was forced to switch to a backup car and will have to start at the back of the field in the second of two qualifying races Thursday. Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota was repairable.
Patrick and Hamlin started the pileup by making contact coming out of the second turn. Casey Mears, Michael Annett and Jeb Burton also were involved.
Patrick called it “the nature of pack racing” while Hamlin said “you always have to give a little bit extra room in practice.” But neither driver took full blame, with Hamlin calling it a “miscalculation one way or another on one of our parts.”
Patrick, who started on the pole for the Daytona 500 two years ago, said she’s disappointed to go to a backup car.
“I know that it was a good car and it’s never a good thing to crash,” she said. “Sometimes there’s not much you can do about it. I could have collected more people and it wouldn’t have been anything that they were a part of. But that’s just group racing at Daytona. That’s the gamble that we all face.”
POWERBALL PLAYER: Dale Earnhardt Jr. could hit the jackpot twice this week.
The two-time and defending Daytona 500 champion acknowledged Wednesday that he plays the lottery even though longtime girlfriend Amy Reimann disapproves.
Earnhardt bought a Powerball ticket while he was in New York early last week, hoping to win the $500 million jackpot.
“Amy got mad at me,” Earnhardt said. “She’s like, ‘What the hell are you buying a Powerball ticket for? You don’t need to be winning it.’ And I promised her right then I would split half with a charity. So she made me feel pretty bad.”
Why does a guy who can have just about anything he wants buy a lottery ticket?
“I don’t know. Everybody else was buying them, and I want to play,” he said. “I want to have fun. … We’ve got a group text with all the guys that work on the farm. We text pictures back and forth of our Powerball tickets to each other. So we have a little fun with that.”
Earnhardt doesn’t pick his own numbers. He goes with the “quickpick.”
“Just give me the ticket,” he said. “We were talking out of the elevator and there was this little kiosk of all kinds of different stuff and somebody was buying one when we walked by and I said, ‘Hey, I’m going to get me one. I don’t even know what I’m doing. Just give me the ticket.’
“When the numbers came, they popped up on my phone and that was pretty convenient. But we didn’t win. Actually, I won $12 bucks. I hit the Powerball number. So that gives you something like 12 bucks.”
Instead of reinvesting in another lottery ticket, he pocketed the cash.
Asked what his Powerball number would be if he picked it himself Wednesday — the 14th anniversary of his father’s death at Daytona International Speedway — Earnhardt’s answer was spot on.
“One number? Three. Three today. Why not?” he said, referring to the famed No. 3 his father drove.
CHASE ELIGIBILITY: NASCAR has updated eligibility for drivers to qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Drivers must start all races to be eligible for the 10-race Chase. Under the previous rule, drivers needed just to attempt to qualify for every race.
A driver does not lose Chase eligibility for attempting to qualify for a race and failing to make the field.
NASCAR could offer waivers in certain circumstances like it did last season for Tony Stewart and this season for Brian Vickers. He will miss the Daytona 500 and next week’s race in Atlanta following heart surgery.
HISTORIC STARTER: NASCAR named series official Kim Lopez as the chief starter for Sunday’s Daytona 500.
Lopez will become the first woman and first Hispanic to flag the race. Lopez is in her 11th season with NASCAR and has flagged races for the past seven years in the Xfinity Series and Truck Series. She also flagged two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races last season.
The chief starter displays the eight flags that tell the drivers to start, slow down, move over or stop. Lopez also will wave the checkered flag when the winner crosses the finish line.
Lopez says: “You have little girls who can now look up and say, ‘I can do this someday, I can be this someday.'”
QUALIFYING CHANGES: Just days after Daytona 500 pole qualifying turned into a debacle, NASCAR has tweaked qualifying procedures for its lower series at Daytona International Speedway.
The Xfinity and Camping World Truck fields will be divided into four groups instead of two for the first round and it will last 2 1/2 minutes instead of five. That should force cars to leave pit road instead of playing cat-and-mouse games with competitors.
NASCAR also will stage cars on pit road in a single file before the clock starts. When the cars pull out of line, they must leave pit road.
On Sunday, the Daytona 500 qualifying session was done in knockout rounds for the first time in 57 years. Drivers jockeyed for position on pit road, leading to a traffic jam.
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