By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
The number one goal in the Can-Am Duels at Daytona is to keep your car in one piece. That was one goal that was unmet by Hendrick Motorsports drivers William Byron and Jimmie Johnson.
What seemed to be a quiet race for Seven-Time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion Johnson quickly turned into anything but that on lap eight. As he rode in the ‘freight-train,’ his No. 48 Lowe’s for Pros Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 uncharacteristically spun without warning. Johnson’s car whipped around so quickly that Aric Almirola has nowhere to go. Both cars were destroyed in the collision.
“Tough way to start Speedweeks,” Johnson said. “I feel terrible for my race team for all their hard work. We’ll take that backup (car) out. The car started to shake a little bit entering the tri-oval. That is why I pulled down. I was kind of shocked that I had the shake, and knew it was that soft tire shake coming from the right side. As I entered the tri-oval, it finally went flat and hooked me around and into to Aric (Almirola) unfortunately. Terrible way to start, but thankful for all the support from Chevrolet, Lowes for Pros. We will pull out that next bullet and get ready.”
Prior to the incident, Johnson pulled out of line, feeling out the problem. A flat right rear Goodyear tire gave him little warning before completely letting go.
“I just had a flat tire,” Johnson explained. “As I was coming into the tri-oval I could feel the car starting to shake, there is kind of a shake when you have a soft tire and I knew what it was and tried to pull out of line and I thought I had it under control, but as I exited the tri-oval, it finally went flat and turned me sideways and unfortunately, I collected Aric (Almirola) in the process.”
Byron didn’t fare any better. Just 30 laps after Johnson’s incident, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. made an aggressive move, side-drafting the Rookie of the Year contender. Byron’s No. 24 Axalta Camaro ZL1 veered to the left before snapping back into the outside wall. Several laps later, Stenhouse was caught in a similar situation, sending David Gilliland spinning in turn one.
“That was kind of the worst possible spot to get on my quarter panel and I just lost it,” Byron explained. “I just got sucked around-the air moved me around. Other than that, it was going pretty well before then. I hate it that we tore up a car, but we will go to work and get ready for the 500. We were all kind of riding in a single-file line, and a couple of guys were trying to make the bottom work and just got sucked around.”
Now Byron and Johnson are just two of eight drivers that will have to either repair their cars or go to back-ups for the Daytona 500 on Sunday.