Las Vegas pole winner Jeff Gordon will have to drop to the back of the field for the green flag of Sunday's Kobalt 400, the third race in the 2015 Sprint Cup Series championship, after crashing in practice.
Gordon was caught out when Danica Patrick spun in the #10 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevy late in the final practice session on Saturday afternoon. The four-time Cup champion was following too close to avoid contact on the right front side of his primary car, and as a result he will have to take to the backup #24 Hendrick Motorsport car for the race.
Under NASCAR rules, changing cars after qualifying is completed means that the driver has to start from the back of the grid for the race. That means Gordon effectively loses his pole position, and instead it will be Penske's Joey Logano leading the field to the start line at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
"Danica spun out and we hit her," Gordon said over the team radio. He didn't speak to the media after the session ended, but subsequently tweeted: "Just when u think everything is starting to go your way 10 spins in front of u & ruins ur day ... Going to backup!"
This weekend was the second time that Gordon has won pole in the first three races of 2015. However he was involved in racing accidents in both Daytona and Atlanta, and his luck doesn't seem to have improved much for the first Cup race out on the west coast.
Gordon can at least take comfort knowing that the Hendrick team is looking very strong at the 1.5-mile intermediate oval. Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. had qualified in third and fourth places on Friday, and Jimmie Johnson had also made it into the top ten.
On Saturday, Johnson further demonstrated the strength of the Hendrick offering this weekend by coming top of the time sheets in both of the 55 minute practice sessions. His best time came in the later session when conditions were at their warmest, and he was able to post a time of 28.141s (191.891mph).
Joey Logano had been second-fastest in the earlier session, followed by Casey Mears and Martin Truex Jr. In the later session, Johnson was over three tenths faster than Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick, with Logano in fourth place on the time sheets.
Also sent to the back for Sunday's race is David Ragan, who is currently substituting for the injured Kyle Busch in the #18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
Ragan had qualified in 13th place in qualifying on Friday, but he brushed the wall during the practice session with enough force for the team to decide a switch to the backup car was required in his case as well.
"Had a handful on last run and slapped the wall," Ragan posted on Twitter later. "We will be ready to roll from the back tomorrow. Cars 2 pass and moves to make!"
See full Saturday practice times