Skinner wins Daytona 500 pole; Busch Clash, ARCA 200 on tap DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 8) -- Mike Skinner and Steve Grissom led 51 cars in Daytona 500 Busch Pole Award Qualifying Saturday at Daytona International Speedway, giving the Feb.
Skinner wins Daytona 500 pole; Busch Clash, ARCA 200 on tap
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 8) -- Mike Skinner and Steve Grissom led 51 cars in Daytona 500 Busch Pole Award Qualifying Saturday at Daytona International Speedway, giving the Feb. 16 Daytona 500 its most surprising front row since 1976. Stock car Speedweeks racing action gets underway at Daytona today. The Busch Clash of 1997 takes the green flag at noon, with defending NASCAR Winston Cup champion Terry Labonte on the pole in the elite, 14-driver field. The Daytona ARCA 200 completes the doubleheader at 1:15 p.m., with Andy Hillenburg set to lead the 40-car ARCA Bondo/Mar-Hyde Series field. Reserved Roberts Tower Grandstand seats are $60 and unreserved grandstand seats are $40. Skinner, a propective NASCAR Winston Cup Rookie of the Year candidate in Richard Childress' Lowe's Chevrolet, toured the 2.5-mile trioval in 47.415 seconds, an average speed of 189.813 mph. Skinner is the first rookie to win the Busch Pole for "The World's Greatest Race" since Loy Allen accomplished the feat in 1994 and only the second in the 39-year history of the event. Grissom, fired from the Diamond Ridge Motorsports ride midway through last season, debuted in Larry Hedrick's Kodiak Chevrolet with a lap of 47.539/189.318 mph. The pair of Chevrolet drivers held off the pole favorites -- Ford drivers who included Dale Jarrett (3rd, 189.286), Rusty Wallace (4th, 189.179) and John Andretti (6th, 188.834). Other surprises included Bobby Hillin (5th, 189.111) and Allen (8th, 188.474). Skinner and Grissom, who won the Gargoyles 300 NASCAR Busch Series race at Daytona to open last season, are probably the most surprising front row starters for the Daytona 500 since Ramo Stott and Terry Ryan were first and second, respectively, in 1976, after the times of fast qualifiers A.J. Foyt and Darrell Waltrip were disallowed. Labonte will be joined in the two-segment, 50-mile sprint by Mark Martin, Wallace, defending Busch Clash and Daytona 500 winner Jarrett, Bobby Labonte, Johnny Benson, Ernie Irvan, Jeff Burton, Dale Earnhardt, Ted Musgrave, Ricky Craven, Ward Burton, Jeremy Mayfield and Jeff Gordon. The Clash winner could pocket $80,000 for only 20 laps work. Hillenburg is the only former Daytona ARCA 200 winner in the ARCA 200 field for the 80-lap event. Hillenburg, a driving school instructor from Indianapolis, won the pole in a Chevrolet owned by James Finch, who won two of the last three ARCA 200s with Jeff Purvis at the wheel. Hillenburg will be joined in the front row by Ron Barfield, driving a Ford owned by Bill Elliott. Defending ARCA champion Tim Steele starts 10th. Jarrett, who won the Daytona 500 pole in 1995, will start the first Gatorade 125-Mile Qalifying Race on Thursday from the front row, alongside Skinner. Wallace will be on the outside of the front row in the second Gatorade 125. The Gatorade 125s will fill up to the 30th starting position for the Daytona 500. Positions 31-38 will be filled by qualifying speeds, followed by up to four provisional starters based on car owner points. A 43rd starting position is reserved for a non-qualified former NASCAR Winston Cup champion. Qualifying for the Daytona 500 continues Monday at 1 p.m. and will conclude Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. "My feelings are unexplainable," said an elated Skinner, who was joined in the media center by car owner Childress. "I made my first rookie mistake leaving pit road, when I shifted from first to fourth gears. I really smothered it and thought I was finished right there. "When I thought nothing else could happen, a garbage bag blew out in the race track, right in the line. I drove around it and the car got loose. I heard the motor pick up and I thought it might be a good lap. "It shot straight out of turn four and I guess I was on my way. These qualifying set-ups are a handful -- I'm sure Steve (Grissom) will tell you. I was glad to be able to get back to take the checkered flag!" "This is pretty amazing, the way 1996 ended up," marveled Grissom, who spent most of 96 unemployed, but still making his presence felt at the race tracks. "I want to thank Larry and Sue Hedrick for believing in me and giving me this opportunity."