Junior wrecks Daytona 500 primary car

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

John Raoux

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Instead of leading the field to the green flag in the Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start from the back of the pack after wrecking his primary race car in practice.

Earnhardt still could win Sunday's season-opening race -- he'll just have his work much harder to do so.

Earnhardt mangled his pole-winning car in practice Wednesday, colliding with five-time defending NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson and sliding into a wall.

"We've got plenty of race cars," Earnhardt said. "I ain't worried about how fast we'll be or whether we'll be as good. We'll be fine. But it never feels good tearing them up."

Earnhardt was pushing Johnson, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, in a two-car draft when Johnson had to back off the gas for slower-moving traffic in front of him. Earnhardt plowed into Johnson's back bumper and nearly spun him out, but Johnson saved his car from skidding.

A second pack of cars led by Martin Truex Jr. closed quickly on Earnhardt's bumper, causing the No. 88 Chevrolet to spin across the track and into the inside wall.

Restrictor plates cut

NASCAR has reduced the size of the restrictor plate in an attempt to cut speeds before the season-opening Daytona 500.

The move is one of many NASCAR has made since last weekend's exhibition Budweiser Shootout saw speeds top 206 mph at one point.

The reduction of the restrictor plate is 1/64-inch and could cut about 10 horsepower from the engines.

Horsepower-sapping restrictor plates are used at Daytona and Talladega, the biggest and fastest tracks in NASCAR. The plates limit an engine's power by reducing the amount of air that flows into the carburetor.