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Drivers try to cope with new car design at Daytona

Ryan Newman hits the wall during the second

Ryan Newman hits the wall during the second Budweiser Duel qualifying race. (Feb. 21, 2013) Credit: AP

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Sunday will be Danica Patrick's second Daytona 500, but it will be the first for all drivers in NASCAR's new Generation 6 car, a sleeker, lighter design that at times seems to have a mind of its own in Daytona traffic.

"You really can't get close to each other side-by-side in the corners," said Denny Hamlin, whose Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota got loose on Lap 53 of yesterday's 60-lap Budweiser Duel 1. "Any kind of bad aero position that you put yourself in, your car can be vulnerable."

Hamlin came down the track and made contact with Carl Edwards, much the way 2008 Daytona 500 winner Ryan Newman had seen his car make contact with Edwards, without apparent reason, in Wednesday's practice. Thursday's wreck, necessitating the only caution flag in either Duel, also collected Trevor Bayne and Regan Smith. Kevin Harvick won Duel 1 and Kyle Busch won Duel 2.

"From [Richard Childress Racing's] standpoint, they're putting all the effort they can into it," said Harvick, who has committed to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. "I'm going to put all I can into it. Gil [Martin, crew chief] and his guys, they don't care. They just want to win races. They're going to work on the car whether it's a guy that's going to be here tomorrow or be here for 20 years. We have a lot of responsibility to be professionals. Pride is key in this whole situation."

Busch, who failed to qualify for the Chase last season, said he learned an important lesson for Sunday's Daytona 500. "Stay out front when you get out front," Busch said. "It's hard to pass the leader."

Kahne trailed Duel 2 pole-sitter Jeff Gordon for much of the early going. "The only way [to pass] is in bigger packs," he said. "I was in line behind Jeff forever and no way I was going to pass him."

Of the 45 drivers who raced Thursday, all but two -- Mike Bliss and Brian Keselowski -- earned spots in the Daytona 500. Keselowski's brother Brad, the reigning Sprint Cup champ, finished seventh in Duel 1.

Waltrip for Sandy Hook

Two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip recently visited Newtown, Conn. He finished 14th in Duel 1 to qualify the Sandy Hook School Support Fund Toyota. "We're just hopeful we can help out a great deal -- raising money for counseling, rehabilitation, rebuilding that town, whatever they need money for," said Waltrip, whose Swan Racing race car features a call-to-action decal encouraging donations by texting "Newtown" to 80888.

"Secondarily [it's good] to know that we're going to give the race fans in the Northeast something to cheer about and smile for at the Daytona 500."

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