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“It just shows you that any kind of bad aero position you put yourself in, your car can be vulnerable,” said Hamlin, who was running in the high line when he inched into Edwards’ space down low.

Juan Pablo Montoya, who infamously crashed into a jet dryer during last year’s Daytona 500 to trigger a massive fuel fire, stopped for minor repairs during the caution. Montoya restarted the race in 13th with four laps remaining, but rocketed through the field to finish third.

“It was time to go,” he said. “It’s hard, you don’t want to tear up the car, and at the same time you want to go. The bumpers are a little fragile. You have to be careful with that. You want to have a good car at the end.”

The bulk of the race seemed to be one long parade of the Gen-6 race car. Unsure of how the cars handle in packs, and when the drivers choose to side-draft, most of the field in the first race played it conservatively.

“The choice was obviously made by a bunch of us to run around in circles and just make laps,” said two-time Daytona 500 champion Michael Waltrip, who needed a clean race to guarantee a spot in Sunday’s field.

“I’m just trying to make the race. There were a lot of people that just wanted to get through some laps and understand what was going on. There were some of us that would have run like that until they threw the checkered just to make the race. And then there were some that decided it was time to go, and they made it work.”

Waltrip is racing in a special Sandy Hook Special Support Fund paint scheme, and his car number has been changed to No. 26 as a tribute to the 26 students and teachers killed in the Newtown, Conn., school shooting.

“There’s a lot of people up in Connecticut with a smile on their face right now. I’m real proud to get in the race for them,” Waltrip said.

Brian Keselowski, older brother of reigning Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski, was the one driver who truly had to race his way into the Daytona 500 in the first qualifier. But he lacked speed early, fell two laps down and missed the race.

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Follow Jenna Fryer online: https://twitter.com/JennaFryer and http://racing.ap.org