By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Perhaps the third time really is the charm for Jimmie Johnson.
After wrecking his primary Daytona 500 car in the second 150-mile qualifying Budweiser Duel at Daytona on Thursday, Johnson was down two No. 48 Chevrolets.
Johnson had trashed the intended Daytona 500 backup car five days earlier in the Sprint Unlimited.
The six-time champion expected his third Speedweeks car might be a rewrapped version of a Hendrick Motorsports teammate's Chevy. Instead, a brand new No. 48 was ready for Friday's practice, fully painted and detailed.
What's more, Johnson said the current version may be faster than the primary and backup he destroyed.
"We've been very impressed and happy with the speed this third car has had," Johnson said prior to the final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice session Saturday at Daytona International Speedway. "Not a situation we wanted to be in, by any means, but I wasn't aware of the preparation and our car count coming down here. Obviously we want to bring our best two race cars and we felt that was the case.
"But we brought two cars that we had a lot of success with last year, and a build on those cars that were last year's mindset and technology. Some of our teammates built new vehicles and brought them down here, and they have had a little speed on us even through qualifying."
Johnson was surprised his team also had a new car at his disposal.
"I wasn't aware that we had a (new) generation car like this, and that's what our third backup is," Johnson said. "With our single-car runs (Saturday in practice) the car had a few tenths more speed in it than our best car, the car that we had slated for the Daytona 500.
"So, with all that, it's nice to have the speed, and we'll take it from there."
TRACK TIME FOR TRUEX
Martin Truex Jr. was worried. The same wreck in the Duel that clobbered Jimmie Johnson's Chevrolet also crippled Truex's No. 78.
The Furniture Row team had no choice but to roll out a backup car, but unlike Johnson, Truex got no track time with the replacement on Friday.
Fortunately, a break in the weather allowed him to run laps on Saturday morning to get the feel of the backup car.
Truex was elated at the results, and that helped ease the pain of knowing he'll have to give up his second-place starting position in Sunday's Daytona 500 and take the green flag from the back of the field.
"I was definitely relieved to get some time in the car," Truex said after Saturday's practice. "Honestly, I'm really excited about this race car. Without a shadow of a doubt, this car is better than the one we ran the other night in the qualifying race.
"The Furniture Row guys did another good job. I even hate to call this car a backup because of how good it felt."
From a viewing aspect, one of the most compelling stories in Sunday's Daytona 500 will be the speed coming from the rear of the field.
All told nine cars must drop to the back for the start of the race. Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer, Jamie McMurray, Michael Waltrip and David Ragan -- all accomplished restrictor-plate race car drivers -- went to backup cars after their primary entries were KO'd in the final corner of the second Duel.
Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick and Bobby Labonte also will take the green from the rear because of blown engines and subsequent unapproved engine changes last Saturday.