Preseason Thunder Part II: Daytona day three report

Wallace, Labonte Still In The Hunt For First Daytona 500 Victory ~ 32 Days Until The Daytona 500 ~ DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Jan. 14, 2004) - NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series stars Rusty Wallace and Terry Labonte are hoping that this year's 46th ...

Wallace, Labonte Still In The Hunt For First Daytona 500 Victory
~ 32 Days Until The Daytona 500 ~

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Jan. 14, 2004) - NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series stars Rusty Wallace and Terry Labonte are hoping that this year's 46th annual Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 15 will finally bring them their first triumph in the "Great American Race."

"We've come so close to winning it so many times," said Rusty Wallace, who has made 21 starts in the Daytona 500. "We'd lose it with 10 laps to go and five laps to go and things like that.

"Maybe it'll be my year this year. I feel like I've got just as good a car as I've ever had. Our practice speeds have been pretty strong. We've been in the top 10 the past two or three days. I believe the performance is definitely there in the car."

A victory in the Daytona 500 can be an elusive one. Darrell Waltrip, a three-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion, needed 17 years to finally win the "Great American Race" while the late Dale Earnhardt captured the Daytona 500 on his 20th attempt.

"I remember Dale went forever with people asking him when he was going to win the Daytona 500," Wallace said. "He won it (in 1998) and it wasn't an hour later he told me they'd start asking me when I was going to win it. That's a compliment to me."

Meanwhile, Terry Labonte, driver of the No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet, has made 25 starts in the Daytona 500, finishing second three times.

"It's a big event for us," Labonte said. "It's the biggest race that we run. It's the one that everybody wants to win. Everybody puts a lot of effort into it. It's always been that way. I can remember back years ago when people hardly did any testing. They still always tested at Daytona for the 500.

"It's always been a very difficult race to win over the years. It hasn't changed. There are a lot of guys that burn the same fuse I do - like Rusty Wallace and some others - that have won a lot of races and some championships but still haven't won the 500. It's a tough one to win."

Crown Royal announced as IROC sponsor: The International Race of Champions announced a multi-year agreement with Crown Royal to serve as the official title sponsor of the IROC Series.

Crown Royal IROC is an invitational racing series that matches 12 drivers from different disciplines of auto racing in equally prepared cars on Goodyear Eagle radial racing tires. The Crown Royal IROC Series consists of four 100-mile races with points awarded for finishing positions. At the end of the fourth race, points are tallied and a champion of champions is named.

The 2004 Crown Royal International Race of Champions schedule will once again kick off during Speedweeks on Friday, Feb. 13, the same night as the Florida Dodge Dealers 250 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race.

With the new Crown Royal sponsorship comes a significant increase in the Series' prize money. The purse for the 2004 IROC season will be $1.9 million including $1 million to the champion. This is a major increase from the 2003 season in which the champion received $250,000 and represents the highest payout for a Series Champion in IROC history.

Elliott ready for the Budweiser Shootout: Two-time Daytona 500 winner Bill Elliott will be racing the No. 91 Evernham Motorsports Dodge in the Budweiser Shootout, Saturday night, Feb. 7 under the lights at historic Daytona International Speedway. During this week's NEXTEL Cup Series testing, Elliott, who is running a limited schedule in 2004, has been gaining information that will not only help himself, but his Evernham Motorsports teammates as well.

"The (Daytona) 500 is such an important race for Dodge and the race team as a whole," Elliott said. "To me, that's the key part. I feel like I can contribute by running the Budweiser Shootout and be a part of that and then help them through the (Gatorade) 125s and the 500 - Jeremy (Mayfield) or Kasey (Kahne) either one."

Even though the no-holds barred All-Star race is the only race Elliott is scheduled to compete in during Speedweeks, he is not counting out the Daytona 500 if the opportunity presents itself.

"I may be in it," Elliott said. "We'll see what transpires, but right now I don't know. I'm just here to fit in anywhere I can. I'm just part of the puzzle. Plug me in wherever I need to be. If something came up, I'm sure Ray would entertain the idea."

Jeff Burton lands sponsor for the Daytona 500: While Jeff Burton's No. 99 Roush Racing Ford lacks a full-time sponsor, he has secured funding for the season-opening Daytona 500. Burton's No. 99 Roush Racing Ford will feature a TNT and NBA All-Star event paint scheme.

"We've got TNT and the NBA All-Star event as sponsor for Speedweeks, which is pretty cool," said Burton, who won the 2000 Pepsi 400. "I'm a huge basketball fan as most of you know. I love basketball so it's gonna be a fun thing to do - a fun promotion to bring some awareness to the NBA All-Star event. That's the Sunday night after the Daytona 500, so that's a pretty cool day. You can watch the Daytona 500 and then watch the best in the NBA play Sunday night."

On top of the speed chart: Ken Schrader, driver of the No. 49 Dodge for BAM Racing, was the fastest on the final day of NEXTEL Cup Series testing on Thursday with a speed 187.793 mph. Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft Ford for the Wood Brothers, is the fastest car of the entire NEXTEL Cup Series test session with a lap of 188.470 mph, which was turned on Wednesday. Drivers did participate in a drafting session at the end of the day and rookie Johnny Sauter, driver of the No. 30 AOL Chevrolet, was fastest with a lap 189.713.

Next up is NASCAR Busch: The NASCAR Busch Series is next up on the Preseason Thunder testing schedule. The odd-numbered teams in the 2003 NASCAR Busch Series owner's standings will test on Saturday, Jan. 17 and Sunday, Jan. 18 while the even-numbered teams will test on Tuesday, Jan. 20 and Wednesday, Jan. 21. All test sessions are free and open to the public with access to the Oldfield Grandstand through the lobby of DAYTONA USA.

FanFest Continues: The next Preseason Thunder FanFest is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 17 with NASCAR Busch Series drivers. Included in the $5 admission are fan forums that feature question and answer sessions between fans and drivers, DAYTONA USA's Pit Stop Challenge, show cars and a silent auction of autographed items.

All of the proceeds from FanFest benefit the Brenners Children's Hospital (in Winston-Salem, N.C.), Speediatrics, Victory Junction Gang Camp and the Ladies Auxiliary of Stock Car Racing.

Drivers scheduled to appear on the Jan. 17 FanFest:
6 p.m. - Jason Leffler, Hermie Sadler and Robert Pressley
6:45 p.m. - David Green, Kasey Kahne, Mike Bliss and Bobby Hamilton Jr.

Thursday's speeds from NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series testing in preparation for the Feb. 15 Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway: <pre> 1. Ken Schrader Dodge 187.793 mph 2. Elliott Sadler Ford 187.664 3. Ricky Rudd Ford 187.555 4. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 187.488 5. John Andretti Chevrolet 187.430 6. Casey Mears Dodge 187.430 7. Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 187.363 8. Bill Elliott Dodge 187.301 9. Jeff Burton Ford 187.106 10. Kyle Petty Dodge 187.071 11. Rusty Wallace Dodge 187.056 12. Kevin Lepage Chevrolet 186.900 13. Brian Vickers Chevrolet 186.885 14. Sterling Marlin Dodge 186.614 15. Robby Gordon Chevrolet 186.455 16. Dave Blaney Dodge 186.443 17. Greg Biffle Ford 186.366 18. Bobby Labonte Chevrolet 186.305 19. Jimmy Spencer Dodge 186.197 20. Derrike Cope Dodge 186.154 21. Terry Labonte Chevrolet 186.070 22. Scott Riggs Chevrolet 185.659 23. Ryan Newman Dodge 185.231 24. Tony Raines Chevrolet 184.275 25. Johnny Sauter Chevrolet 183.902 26. Joe Ruttman Dodge 183.228

Speedweeks 2004 tickets, including the 46th annual Daytona 500, are available online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.

-dis-

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , John Andretti , Jeff Burton , Derrike Cope , Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Darrell Waltrip , Bobby Labonte , Terry Labonte , Rusty Wallace , Jason Leffler , Kyle Petty , Ken Schrader , Jimmy Spencer , Greg Biffle , Kevin Lepage , Sterling Marlin , Robby Gordon , Ryan Newman , Bobby Hamilton Jr. , Robert Pressley , Casey Mears , Tony Raines , Jimmie Johnson , David Green , Scott Riggs , Joe Ruttman , Hermie Sadler , Johnny Sauter , Kasey Kahne , Mike Bliss , Brian Vickers , Elliott Sadler , Dave Blaney