DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Matt Kenseth will have to drop from the front row to the rear of the Daytona 500 field, as he will go to a backup car following a heavy crash Thursday on the final lap of the second Daytona 500 qualifying race at Daytona International Speedway.
Kenseth had qualified second-fastest Sunday, but that car is now a heap of metal, leaving the two-time Daytona 500 winner without his best car for the biggest race of the season.
The backup car has been raced by Joe Gibbs Racing before, but crew chief Jason Ratcliff said he was unsure in which race or by which JGR driver. A potential backup could have been the car Kenseth used in the Sprint Unlimited exhibition race Saturday, but that car also was damaged in a crash.
"I don't know that starting in the back is as big a deal as losing your car," Kenseth said. "This is the second one we lost this week, and we're probably down to our third-string car.
"This car was obviously really, really fast. ... Starting in the back in 500 miles, if you can't get to the front in three and a half or four hours, you have an issue. I'm not as worried about that as I am the next car."
The accident started when Jamie McMurray moved up in front of and pinched Jimmie Johnson as they battled for second, triggering the accident that collected Johnson, Kenseth, Martin Truex Jr. and AJ Allmendinger. All will have to go to backup cars and are starting deep in the field based on their finishes Thursday.
Johnson said he wouldn't blame McMurray for a split-second decision.
"It was just a block [by McMurray] that didn't turn out -- I was out there, and it unfortunately turned us around," Johnson said. "The guys were real confident about our backup selection. I feel good about it. I was asking what our strategy was here and if we needed to protect [the car], but Chad [Knaus] of course wanted me to but said, 'Go race.'
"We've got a great one sitting in the truck [as a backup]."
Because he had one of the top two qualifying speeds Sunday, Kenseth was locked into a front-row spot, and therefore his finish Thursday had no bearing on where he would start in the Daytona 500 -- as long as he didn't wreck his car. There are two 55-minute practice sessions scheduled for Friday and a 100-minute session Saturday.
"Once we got back to fourth, fifth, I probably should have just bailed," said Kenseth, who appeared to be in fifth at the time of the accident. "It seemed pretty safe at the time. ... You do have to practice at some point. You have to make sure you have what you need for Sunday. Obviously, we've got to start over now."