Daytona II: Event preview

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 2, 2002) - At this rate of success, Dale Earnhardt, Inc. may want to lobby for more than the standard four restrictor-plate races each NASCAR Winston Cup Series season. DEI has dominated the restrictor-plate events at...

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 2, 2002) - At this rate of success, Dale Earnhardt, Inc. may want to lobby for more than the standard four restrictor-plate races each NASCAR Winston Cup Series season.

DEI has dominated the restrictor-plate events at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway since last season, having won four of the last six behind Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet) and Michael Waltrip (No. 15 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet).

The duo will have another opportunity Saturday night as the NASCAR Winston Cup Series arrives at Daytona International Speedway for the Pepsi 400 where Earnhardt Jr. is the defending champion.

He was extremely dominant in last season's emotional Pepsi 400, leading 116 of the 160 laps en route to a .123-second victory over Waltrip.

"The team will never forget last year's win. Unbelievable," Earnhardt Jr. said."We had so much on our minds - and to go out and win like we did was a great help to the whole team and the entire DEI organization, too."

Earnhardt has been the catalyst of the two as he has registered three of those wins and finished outside the top eight just once during that stretch. He earned two of those victories last year - winning the Pepsi 400 and the fall event at Talladega - and added another this season at the most recent visit to a restrictor-plate event, the Talladega 500 in April.

However, there was a moment of anxiety about the future of Earnhardt's dominant Chevrolet during this season's Daytona 500.

"We've had this magic car that has been great at the restrictor-plate races the last two years and I was worried that I ruined it when we cut a tire and crashed in the 500 this year," said Earnhardt Jr., who finished 29th."But Tony (Eury) Jr. and all the guys revived it and we went out and won Talladega with it. So I expect it to be fast this weekend."

Earnhardt Jr., currently 16th in the points, has just one finish better than 22nd - 12th at Pocono - in seven starts since his win at Talladega.

"We're having a poor season right now, but it's nothing like the nightmare we went through last year," Earnhardt Jr. said."To win again would really launch us in the second half of the season, just like last year's race."

Waltrip has found quite a bit of success as well, posting four top-five finishes in his last six restrictor-plate races. Three of those top five have come at Daytona International Speedway, making him a strong favorite as well.

Waltrip kick-started DEI's dominance by capturing the Daytona 500 in 2001, the first victory of his NASCAR Winston Cup Series career. He also finished runner-up to Earnhardt Jr. at that season's Pepsi 400. Waltrip has been consistently strong at this season's restrictor-plate events, finishing among the top five in both races. He was fifth at the Daytona 500 and was runner-up to Earnhardt Jr. at the Talladega 500.

The only drivers who have been able to penetrate their dominant run during this span have been Bobby Hamilton (No. 55 Schneider Electric Chevrolet) and Ward Burton (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge). Hamilton won the last season's spring event at Talladega and Burton captured this season's Daytona 500.

"The DEI cars are really tough and they've been the guys to beat there, that's for sure," Rusty Wallace (No. 2 Miller Lite Ford) said. <pre> DEI Domination Event Earnhardt Jr. Waltrip Finish Finish 2001 Daytona 500 2 1 Talladega 500 8 28 Pepsi 400 1 2 EA Sports 500 1 37

2002 Daytona 500 29 5 Talladega 500 1 2 </pre>


* Don't look now.... Sterling Marlin (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge) has led the NASCAR Winston Cup points championship since the second event of the season - Rockingham - but his pursuers are quickly closing. The top five are separated by just 88 points, and his closest pursuer, Mark Martin (No. 6 Viagra/Pfizer Ford), trails by 62. The sixth through 10th positions also are locked in quite a battle with 82 points separating them. With that in mind, it increases the odds that a driver will cash in on the Winston Leader Bonus, which has rolled over to $120,000 entering this weekend. The bonus is awarded to the driver who wins the race and sits atop the point standings.

* Color by numbers... Among the drivers who will sport different paint schemes for the Pepsi 400 are Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet) and Rusty Wallace (No. 2 Miller Lite Ford). Earnhardt will have a special baseball-theme paint job to celebrate Major League Baseball's All-Star Game, which will be played Tuesday in Milwaukee. Wallace will run a combination Miller Lite/Harley Davidson paint scheme.

* No bull - fan can win $1 million at the Pepsi 400... Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet), Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DeWalt Power Tools Ford), Ricky Rudd (No. 28 Havoline Ford), Ricky Craven (No. 32 Tide Ford) and Martin are the eligible drivers for the Winston No Bull event at the Pepsi 400. Should any of these drivers win the Pepsi 400, they will earn a $1 million bonus and a lucky fan will also become an instant millionaire. The eligible fans, who will be paired with a driver race week, are Nancy Miriani, of Whitehouse, Texas; Michael Schiermeyer, of Grants Pass, Ore.; Darlene Milks, of Sevierville, Tenn.; Bryan Dickerson, of Counce, Tenn.; and Loretta Abercrombie, of Dahlonega, Ga. Since the inception of the Winston No Bull program in 1998, a driver and fan have cashed in 12 times.

* Mr. Versatility... Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac), well known for his strong desire and outstanding ability to driver any form of race car, will take advantage of the Grand American Road Racing Association being part of the Pepsi 400 race week. Stewart will team with Elliott Forbes-Robinson for the Crawford Race Car factory team in Thursday evening's Paul Revere 250. It is the same team that Stewart drove for earlier this year in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. Stewart:"I'm kind of a night owl anyway, so I enjoy night racing. There aren't any points and there aren't any big sponsor commitments to really worry about. Home Depot and Coke are going to be on the car and we do appreciate their help, but it's still a' no pressure' race. It's more about going out and racing for the reasons that made me start racing in the first place - go out, have a good time and compete." For those scoring at home, Stewart will have driven seven types of cars since last week when adding in a sports car and his NASCAR Winston Cup Series ride. Last week he drove a winged sprint car, dirt modified, winged super modified, CASCAR stock car and dirt late model during the"off" week.

* Etc.... Martin has posted twice as many top-five finishes than in all of last season as the NASCAR Winston Cup season nears the midway point. Martin has six through 16 events this season, including his first win (Charlotte) since 2000. He had three top-five efforts last year.... There have been 11 different winners in 16 events this season. Kenseth leads the series with three wins.... Only 13 of 87 races at Daytona have been won from the pole (15%).... Elliott Sadler (No. 21 Motorcraft Ford) has not qualified well in his last two appearances at Daytona, but he has finished well. Sadler qualified 38th and finished third in last year's Pepsi 400 and then qualified 41st and finished second in this season's Daytona 500.... Marlin's first career pole (7/4/91) and his last pole (7/5/01) have come at the Pepsi 400.... Jimmy Spencer (No. 41 Target Dodge) and John Andretti (No. 43 Cheerios Dodge) had their first career wins come in the Pepsi 400 in 1994 and' 97, respectively.... Shawna Robinson, who became the first female since Janet Guthrie in 1980 to compete in the Daytona 500 earlier this season, returns for the Pepsi 400. Robinson, who will be sponsored by Dakota Imaging, Inc., will be looking to make her seventh start of the season in the No. 49 Dodge for BAM Racing. Her last start came April 28th at California Speedway.


* Rusty Wallace (No. 2 Miller Lite Ford) has finished seventh or better in four of his last five Pepsi 400 appearances, including a best of third in 2000. The only time he was not among the top seven was 1999, when he led 75 laps and finished 11th. In his last 10 starts overall at Daytona, (including the Daytona 500), he has finished among the top 11 in all but one (2002 Daytona 500).

* Jeff Burton (No. 99 CITGO Ford) has four top-eight finishes, including a win in 2000, in his last five Pepsi 400 starts. In addition to his win, he finished third in 1999 and eighth in 1997 as well as last season.

* Ward Burton (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge) owns four consecutive top-seven finishes in the Pepsi 400. He finished seventh three years in a row - from 1998 to 2000 - and improved to fourth last season. He also captured the Daytona 500 crown in February.

WHAT'S THE WORD? "I definitely enjoy restrictor-plate racing. My first real experience with it was my first race ever in the (NASCAR Craftsman) Truck Series in Daytona 2000, and I raced my way to a second-place finish from a 34th-place start. It's a different kind of racing, and it can take a lot out of you mentally." - Kurt Busch (No. 97 Rubbermaid Ford), who has a pair of top-four finishes in two restrictor-plate races this season.

"We both know that we run really well together. I guess to a certain degree we are unofficial teammates. My teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing - Bobby Labonte - when we're able to run together we typically run well. I think Bobby's philosophy on running together is different than Junior's and mine. Basically, you just find guys you're comfortable running with, and I'm very comfortable running with Bobby whenever I can. But it seems like Junior and I somehow always find each other and get with each other and have the confidence in one another to know that whoever's leading, that the guy behind him knows that if the guys in front makes a move, the guy in second is going to go with him. That's the confidence Junior and I have together." - Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac) on drafting with Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet).


* In one of the biggest surprises in Pepsi/Firecracker 400 history, Greg Sacks captured the 1985 event in a Chevrolet owned by Bill Gardner. It was the only win of Sacks' NASCAR Winston Cup career, but it was a dominant one. Sacks, who started ninth, won by 23.5 seconds over runner-up and polesitter, Bill Elliott.


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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , John Andretti , Jeff Burton , Ward Burton , Bill Elliott , Bobby Hamilton , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Michael Waltrip , Jimmy Spencer , Sterling Marlin , Kurt Busch , Ricky Craven , Elliott Forbes-Robinson , Janet Guthrie , Greg Sacks , Elliott Sadler , Mark Martin
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing