Pepsi 400 Thursday Notebook By Dave Rodman
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 15, 1998) Notes and quotes following Bud Pole Qualifying Thursday night for the Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway:
The luck of NASCAR's qualifying draw put Dale Earnhardt, Daytona's all-time victories leader with 31 assorted scores, in the No. 1 qualifying spot. "It's a real honor to be the first out to qualify...that was a pretty lucky draw," Earnhardt said. "I think the air is thicker than everyone expected and it will cool off some as the night goes on, and they'll get quicker." Earnhardt was right, but it took 15 cars before he was bumped off the pole by Bobby Labonte.
Labonte, meanwhile, surprised no one when he placed his Interstate Batteries Pontiac, once again resplendent in its "Small Soldiers" graphics package, on the top of a 48-car practice sheet after three hours of running Thursday afternoon. Labonte's lap of 46.722 seconds, an average speed of 192.629 mph, was almost .03 seconds faster than brother Terry Labonte's Kellogg's Chevrolet, which was at 192.513 mph. Rounding out the top-five were Jeff Burton (192.476), Winston 500 winner Dale Jarrett (191.722) and Rusty Wallace (191.583).
Labonte then backed up his practice time in qualifying by running 193.611 mph in Bud Pole Qualifying. Labonte was laconic to the end as he described his qualifying lap as "Fast. I figured if it was the pole it was, and if it wasn't, it was still a good lap."
Ricky Craven about summed-up Bobby Labonte's pole-winning lap when he said "That's awesome. It's a little bit of black magic and it's unique (Gibbs Racing superspeedway prowess). Now that they've got it they want to hold onto it." As for his own plans, Craven said he was waiting to see what regular Wild Berry Skittles Pontiac driver Ernie Irvan decided about racing in the Pepsi 400. "Now that I'm back here, I realize how much I miss it," said Craven, whose last NASCAR Winston Cup race was the Bud at The Glen in August. "But I don't want to jump around. I want to work hard on something solid for 1999."
Mark Martin was ninth in the afternoon practice and, as expected, wrote it off to luck. After trashing his primary superspeedway car in the Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, Martin had said it didn't matter what he showed up at Daytona with -- it would be slow. He ran 190.783 mph in practice and backed it up with a 191.665 mph effort in Bud Pole Qualifying, which was third- quickest when he ran it. "This is a great race team," Martin said in summary. "We've just got to race smarter this week than we did last week."
Bobby Labonte, who with brother Terry possesses one of the dryest senses of humor in the NASCAR Winston Cup garage, had one of the lines of the night when ESPN pit reporter Ray Dunlap asked him, "Daytona at night -- did you ever think you'd see that?" "Not at the race track," quipped Labonte.
Sikkens Car Refinishes, a division of Akzo Nobel Coatings, announced today that it has reached an agreement with Joe Gibbs Racing to be the "Official Paint Supplier" for the team that fields entries in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.
Sikkens Car Refinishes first appeared on the No. 3 GM Goodwrench Service Plus Chevrolet owned by Richard Childress Racing in 1989. Since that time, Sikkens Car Refinishes has increased its participation in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series to sponsoring 17 teams in 1998. Over the years, the Norcross, Ga.-based company has expanded its motorsports operations to include the NASCAR Busch Series and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, as well as providing paint for teams competing in the CART and IRL racing series.
Ken Schrader won the Bud Pole Award for the Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, but he was a surprising 35th in Thursday practice at Daytona, then qualified an anemic 190.888 mph. Still, he was looking forward to Saturday night's event.
"If we don't have any problems and if we can miss the big wrecks, we should have a good run," said the Skoal Bandit Chevrolet driver. "The Pepsi 400 will be a real exciting race under the lights. A lot of the drivers I have talked with said it is an unbelievable experience. I am thrilled to be a part of the first race under the lights at Daytona."
Schrader will sign autographs at Hops Brewery on W. International Speedway Blvd., directly across from Daytona International Speedway's Winston Tower, on Friday from 11 a.m. - 1 p.m. Schrader will also participate in a "Fan Forum" -- one of several scheduled in the Pepsi Theater at DAYTONA USA on Friday, Oct. 16, from 2-2:30 p.m. It will be a question and answer session for fans in the area, who must buy a ticket for "The Ultimate Motorsports Attraction" to attend the fan forums.
Also tentatively scheduled to appear in "Fan Forums" at DAYTONA USA over the next two days are a number of past and present drivers. On Friday, in addition to Schrader, Terry Labonte and Kenny Irwin are scheduled at 11 a.m.; Dick Trickle at 12 noon; Rick Mast at 1 p.m.; and Schrader and Kenny Wallace at 2 p.m. On Saturday, a "Legends" forum is scheduled at noon with retired drivers Bobby Allison and Buddy Baker tentatively scheduled to be joined by Darrell Waltrip.
Andy Petree might've been biting his lip Thursday night after he decided to bring a different car than the one Schrader used to win the pole at Talladega.
"I made the decision to bring the car we ran at Daytona this year after a disappointing run last week," said Petree, car owner and crew chief of the Skoal Bandit Chevrolet, which finished fourth in the season-opening Daytona 500. "The car we ran in the Daytona 500 is an awesome speedway car. This team has been working real hard, both at the track and at the shop. I'd like to be able to bring home a trophy for them."
Geoff Bodine, who hopes to make his 501st career NASCAR Winston Cup Series start on Saturday night in the No. 7 Philips Ford, put it succinctly when asked to explain racing at Daytona.
"For me, racing in Daytona holds more value, more prestige and more excitement than anywhere else," Bodine said. "The Pepsi 400 pulls a lot of weight with race fans in this series and around the world. I think any race you can win at Daytona is big, regardless whether it's the '500' or the '400.'"
Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Steve Park was the latest to catch some Richard Childress "generosity," as he used a Childress engine to lock into the Pepsi 400 field in Bud Pole Qualifying.
Daytona Beach's Dan Pardus, who has had a pretty gruesome 1998 season trying to make his NASCAR Winston Cup Series debut, remains upbeat, confident and sure that his Midwest Transit Racing team will eventually succeed in the series. Pardus, who was 39th in the Thursday afternoon practice in his No. 07 Chevrolet, announced plans Thursday to run the first 15 NASCAR Winston Cup races in 1999.
Three-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion Darrell Waltrip will highlight Florida's "Winners Do IT!" Traffic Safety Campaign during Saturday's Pepsi 400. Waltrip's No. 35 Tabasco Pontiac will carry the campaign's decals during the race to help promote traffic safety in Florida. Waltrip, along with a number of other NASCAR Winston Cup drivers, including Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt, Dale Jarrett, Terry Labonte and Ernie Irvan, have done public service radio and television ads to promote the program.
Source: NASCAR Online