The sweep continues: Earnhardt Jr. wins Koolerz 300. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Feb. 15, 2003) -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. continued his dominance of Speedweeks 2003 by winning his second straight Koolerz 300 NASCAR Busch Series season opener at Daytona ...
The sweep continues: Earnhardt Jr. wins Koolerz 300.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Feb. 15, 2003) -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. continued his dominance of Speedweeks 2003 by winning his second straight Koolerz 300 NASCAR Busch Series season opener at Daytona International Speedway.
Earlier in Speedweeks, Earnhardt Jr. captured the inaugural nighttime running of the Budweiser Shootout and one of the Gatorade 125-mile qualifiers. He'll go for four in a row with Sunday's 45th annual Daytona 500, a feat that has never been completed.
"I'm nervous because nobody's has ever done it," Earnhardt Jr. said. "It doesn't bode well for my chances tomorrow. We've got a good car. I'll go in there with the best attitude I can have. We are one of maybe a few teams that are a favorite tomorrow."
Earnhardt Jr. took the lead on Lap 54 on a two-tire pit stop and never relinquished it. He held off several challenges for the lead in the waning laps of the race from Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth.
On Lap 119 of 120, a multi-car incident broke out in Turns 3 and 4 and Earnhardt Jr. took his first career victory at Daytona under caution.
"It was a good race," Earnhardt Jr. said. "We had a great car. I knew from last year's race we needed to be up front to win. I couldn't pass Kevin (Harvick) when he was leading at the start of the race. I knew that would be the situation for anybody who would have been behind me if I would get the lead.
"So we just kept on doing two-tire stops until the end of the race. We had about 90 laps on our left sides. That's exactly what we did last year and it worked out fine."
Earnhardt Jr.'s Koolerz 300 triumph is the first for Chance 2, a new team formed by Earnhardt Jr. and his stepmother Teresa. Chance 2 will run a limited schedule of races this year with Earnhardt Jr., Dale Earnhardt Inc. driver Steve Park and rookie Martin Truex Jr.
Kevin Harvick, driving the No. 21 Payday Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing, dominated the early portion of the Koolerz 300 leading the first 53 laps.
But the 2001 Busch Series champion was dealt a major setback on a pit stop on Lap 77 when his crew failed to remove the gas catch can. Harvick was relegated back to the 30th position on the restart.
Harvick patiently worked his way back up to the second position to challenge Earnhardt Jr. But in the final laps, Harvick got shuffled out of the draft and settled for third position. "You can't make a mistake and expect to beat the best of the best," Harvick said.
Kenseth took second while Mike Wallace and Jamie McMurray rounded out the top five. The top Raybestos Rookie of the Year finisher was Chad Blount, who came home in 11th driving the No. 19 Dodge.
"We had a pretty good car today, but we couldn't get any (drafting) help," Blount said. Pole winner Joe Nemechek never started the Koolerz 300 after coming down with flu-like symptoms. He sat out the race while Daytona 500 pole winner Jeff Green filled in.
Green got caught up in an accident on Lap 92 and finished 36th.
The 45th annual Daytona 500 is sold out, but infield tickets remain on sale. For more information on the Daytona 500, call the Speedway ticket office at (386) 253-7223.