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Jeff Gordon is now the latest driver to go to a backup car for the Daytona 500

  Jeff Gordon (24), the latest crash victim at Daytona (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)  

   By Mike Mulhern

   The changes NASCAR and Goodyear brought to the Daytona 500 have certainly changed up the action here, and the market for body fabricators in stock car racing is clearly up, judging from all the crashing.
   Jeff Gordon was the latest, having to go to a  backup for Sunday's season opener after getting caught up in a late-race crash in Thursday's 150-miler.
    So for the Rick Hendrick guys – Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. – this SpeedWeeks so far has been good news/bad news. Martin has crashed twice, but won the pole for the 500. Earnhardt is also on the front row for the 500, but he was unimpressive in the Shootout and in the 150s. Johnson got caught up in a crash Wednesday and was forced to a 500 backup...which he then drove to a photo-finish win in Thursday's 150.
   Gordon was victim in the Michael Waltrip-Regan Smith run-in.
  Gordon triggered a crash himself the last lap of the Shootout (an incident that led to a sudden and surprising NASCAR rules change on how to end races). This time Gordon was victim.
   Adding up all the teams that have had to unload backups during SpeedWeeks might take a while.
   Gordon says the 500 itself may have just as much action with such unintended consequences.
   The incidents so far don't appear to be part of overly aggressive driving, and NASCAR's new 'hands-off' policy on that. Rather the action seems to stem from the several tweaks NASCAR has done to these cars, including the largest restrictor plate since 1989, and a few aerodynamic tweaks, and newly designed Goodyears, which seem a bit harder.
   "The cars are a handful to drive," Gordon says. "The plate definitely carries a lot of speed off into the corner.
    "We're still seeing a lot of bump-drafting -- and you've really got to use the tools that NASCAR's is giving us to make the cars handle good too, which means the drivers have got to drive the heck out of them.
    "That's what I was really happy with.
    "We got shuffled back at the beginning, and we were able to drive back up into the top-five...unfortunately we didn't save it.
     "But, oh yeah, there's going to be plenty more of that.
     "Usually the 150s are pretty calm. So if that's what it's like, then the fans are in for a treat with the 500."
    Why switch to a backup? Crew chief Steve Letarte: "The nose is pushed up, and we sent our Shootout car, that we wrecked on the last lap  home, and they've already repaired that. That car is as good as new....so we're better off just bringing that car out."

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           The starting lineup for the 52nd running of the Daytona 500


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