NASCAR Notebook: Johnson, Blaney forced to go to backup for Daytona 500

After being involved in a wreck in the Can Am Duels, both Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Blaney will resort to backup cars on Sunday

Mike Dinovo—USA Today Sports
NASCAR Cup Series drivers Jimmie Johnson (48) and Ryan Blaney (21) after a wreck during the Can-Am Duel At Daytona 2 at Daytona International Speedway.

Thursday night was a significant one for Can Am Duel winners Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin, but it was the exact opposite for two Daytona 500 contenders.Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Blaney were both involved in a wreck sparked by contact from David Ragan during the second duel. Both drivers were charging toward the front when Johnson’s rear was tapped by Ragan, sending him up into Blaney.Blaney careened into the wall and suffered damage to both sides of his No. 21 machine. Johnson remained on the track, but cut a right rear tire just a few laps later and slammed into the wall.Both drivers will resort to their backup cars for the Daytona 500 on Sunday due to the damage.”He had a lot of speed,” Blaney’s crew chief Jeremy Bullins said. “He used a little bit of strategy to get the lead. We got passed on a restart and were hanging on to second and almost cleared the leader back. We felt we had a car good enough to win and it was disappointing to tear it up, but that’s part of the deal.”Johnson and Blaney will get track time in their backups during three separate practices on Friday and Saturday. But in one of the biggest spectacle of the season, moving to a backup car that doesn’t already have the same adjustments from earlier in the week is not where either team wanted to be at this point.Dillon, Earnhardt still on speaking termsIt was a minute move, but it was a crucial one in the Chevrolet garage.Austin Dillon, charging up through the field in the second Can Am Duel on Thursday night, decided to draft with Denny Hamlin rather than Dale Earnhardt Jr. to the front of the pack. Earnhardt, who ran up front nearly the entire race, fell behind to eventually place sixth in the qualifying race.The pass for the W. #NASCARonFS1— NASCAR (@NASCAR) February 24, 2017
The move incited some Junior fans, who believed the No. 3 car should have shown loyalty to his Chevy counterpart. Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick also had some harsh words for Dillon, stating “I think the No. 3 car forgot he was driving a Chevrolet.”As for Earnhardt and Dillon, the two spoke Thursday night and are still on good terms.Haters gonna hate but @dalejr told me good job after the race and that he would have done the same ✌— Austin Dillon (@austindillon3) February 24, 2017Given that the move was in a qualifying race and Earnhardt was already locked in to the second spot for Sunday’s race, it didn’t mean much in the scheme of things. Pulling that move during the Daytona 500 with just a handful of laps left to go might have some slightly different repercussions.Logano, Hamlin sign extensionsThe last two Daytona 500 champions both announced contract extensions with their race teams during Speedweeks.Denny Hamlin was the first to announce his new contract with Joe Gibbs Racing prior to the final year of his contract. The 36-year-old driver has 29 career wins over 14 seasons, including last year’s Daytona 500 victory.JGR also announced that FedEx will remain the primary sponsor for Hamlin during the life of the contract extension. Details such as salary and the exact length of the contract were not divulged, but Hamlin told reporters “I’ll be much grayer” when the contract is up.
.@dennyhamlin picked up right where he left off. #NASCARonFS1— NASCAR (@NASCAR) February 24, 2017
Logano signed a contract with Team Penske that will see him driving the No. 22 machine through “2022 and beyond,” according to team owner Roger Penske. The 26-year-old driver left Joe Gibbs Racing years ago to join Penske and has since become a consistent championship threat every season.”It’s an amazing opportunity,” Logano said. “It’s an amazing honor for me to be a part of this announcement today. Over the last four years and going into my fifth year with Team Penske it’s been a huge turn in my career since I’ve been able to start with them. “The biggest thing I’ve learned is to surround yourself with greatness and there’s greatness here.”Similar to Hamlin, Logano also announced he will have Shell-Pennzoil serving as his primary sponsor for 30 races a year. Still one of the youngest drivers on the circuit, Logano has already proved he can elevate the Penske team alongside Brad Keselowski for the next decade.Kennington makes 500 fieldBack in 1988, Trevor Boys qualified for his fifth straight Daytona 500 with Sadler Brothers Racing. The Canadian-born driver had just one full-time season at NASCAR’s premier series level, but bounced around from different teams to consistently make the Great American Race.Since that point, no Canadian driver had qualified for the 500 — until Thursday.D.J. Kennington broke that nearly 30-year streak by earning a transfer spot during the Can Am Duels. The 39-year-old driver attempted to make the field last year with Premium Motorsports, but will participate in his first points race at the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series level on Sunday in the Daytona 500.”This is huge; huge for Canada, huge for all of my team and my family. It’s just an unbelievable feeling,” Kennington said in a release. “I don’t even know how to explain it. I feel like I won the Daytona 500.”It also marks Gaunt Brothers Racing’s first race at the Monster Cup level after competing in what is now the NASCAR Pinty’s Series in 2011. The team plans to participate in all four superspeedway races this season at Daytona and Talladega. With the biggest purse of the NASCAR season set to be shelled out after Sunday’s race, simply finishing with the car in tact would be a massive deal for the underdog team.