GORDON WINS BUSCH POLE -- 42-CAR FIELD SET FOR 38TH PEPSI 400 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Defending Pepsi 400 champion Jeff Gordon took the first step toward his second straight victory when he captured the Busch Pole Award for the 38th ...
GORDON WINS BUSCH POLE -- 42-CAR FIELD SET FOR 38TH PEPSI 400
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Defending Pepsi 400 champion Jeff Gordon took the first step toward his second straight victory when he captured the Busch Pole Award for the 38th "Mid-Summer Classic" Friday morning at Daytona International Speedway. Gordon, who actually made his run of 47.652 seconds, an average speed of 188.869 mph, on Thursday afternoon before rain interrupted the session, won his first pole at Daytona in the most dominant run in the modern-day history of restrictor plate qualifying at the "World Center of Racing." "It's pretty exciting," Gordon said. "We almost thought we didn't know how to win a pole at Daytona! This is not the Daytona 500 but it's the next best thing." Gordon cut a lap that was .423 seconds faster than outside polesitter Sterling Marlin's 48.075/187.207 lap. The widest previous gap between the front row starters in 17 races since restrictor plates came back to NASCAR Winston Cup races with the 1988 Daytona 500. The previous gap was between Busch Pole winner Ken Schrader and outside man Darrell Waltrip in the '89 Daytona 500 -- 196.997 mph to 195.916. "We knew we had a good car yesterday, but I wish everybody could've qualified so we could see how good it would've been," Gordon said. "I think some cars would've been breathing right down our neck. We had a test here a few weeks ago and it was one of our best tests ever. The guys really did a good job of hanging the body on the car and doing everything else we needed." Gordon's lap was good for his fourth pole of the season and his fourth in the last five races. It was also the fourth straight Pepsi 400 pole that was won by a Chevrolet. Dale Jarrett was the fastest Ford in the field in third and Johnny Benson was the fastest Pontiac in fifth. Dave Marcis prepared to make his 800th career start as he led Busch Beer Second-Round Qualifying -- as the only driver to attempt -- with the eighth-fastest lap, 186.389 mph. Marcis, who like Mark Martin had his oil pump belt come off on his Busch Pole Qualifying attempt, therefore qualified for the Busch Clash of '97 Wild Card drawing. "Thanks to Richard Childress and his people, they came to our rescue," said Marcis of the problem with his Prodigy Chevrolet. "We've got the engine in our car right now that Dale Earnhardt qualified with. "You don't see things like that in football, baseball and other sports. We were in trouble and everyone in the garage knew it -- they jumped in and gave us a hand. Richard (Childress) got that engine out of Dale's car and got it right over there, and his guys jumped right in and helped my guys. "When we went out and had that problem, it was like a mountain falls on top of you. I guess the first thing you do is pray and the next thing you do is start working. "I guess 800 is just a number that comes up. It wasn't a goal, and we're going for more. The fans seem to know we work hard and struggle at times, but they show their appreciation. It's great from a driver's standpoint. I love racing and it's been my livelihood. "It's been the hard way, but it's been my way. It's what I want to do. I'm in NASCAR Winston Cup racing, and I want to stay here. I enjoy it. It's a good sport, and that's all there is to it." "We lost oil pressure," Martin said. "Before I noticed it, it was losing the bearings. It was the best motor we've got -- we were going to race that engine as well as qualify it. Steve Seligman suffered a blown engine prior to qualifying and was the only entrant not to make the field. Earnhardt, a two-time winner of the Pepsi 400, said the race begins a critical stretch of 14 straight races that will determine the 1996 NASCAR Winston Cup champion. "I think the stretch of 14 straight races coming up here is going to be tough," Earnhardt said. "At the end of those races, you look around and see where you're at. If you're in the same position you're in now, you'll have a run at 'em until the end of the season. "What's important is being the Winston Cup champion. We race important races every race. The Daytona 500 -- everybody wants to win it and I never have...the Indy race, the Charlotte races, Darlington -- all are important at the time. "The most important thing to me is being the Winston Cup champion. That's what it's all about. We go through the season trying to win each and every race, but my goal is to be an eight- time Winston Cup champion." PEPSI 400 RACE NOTE: Chevrolet drivers Dale Earnhardt, Terry Labonte and Jeff Gordon are ranked 1-2-3 in the NASCAR Winston Cup standings and are in the running for a $50,000 bonus from Gatorade for the leading the standings after Saturday's race -- the halfway point in the series. If one of those drivers wins and also leads the standings he would also receive a $30,000 bonus from Winston. NOTES: Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse announced today that it will sponsor the car driven by Mike Skinner and owned by Richard Childress Racing beginning in 1997. Skinner is set to drive one of two Chevrolet Monte Carlos for Childress -- the other is driven by seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt. "We are very happy to announce a multi-year agreement between Team Lowe's and Richard Childress Racing," said Dale Pond, senior vice president of marketing for Lowe's. "This is an opportunity for us to be affiliated with a championship organization, a championship car owner and an up-and-coming driver with a bright future." The announcement stated that the relationship between Lowe's and Brett Bodine would conclude at the end of the 1996 season. Lowe's has sponsored the No. 11 car since the 1995 season. NASCAR announced today that Hayes Microcomputer Products, Inc., has signed as a corporate premium sponsor of NASCAR Online, the sanctioning body's world wide web site on the Internet.
DAYTONA USA GRAND OPENING NOTES & QUOTES
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 5) -- No less than 55 NASCAR Winston Cup drivers, owners and crew chiefs attended the Grand Opening Gala Thursday night for DAYTONA USA, "The Ultimate Motorsports Attraction," located outside turn four of Daytona International Speedway. Some comments from the participants follow:
DALE JARRETT (No. 88 Quality Care/Ford Credit Ford) -- We had a real good time at the opening of DAYTONA USA. It was very, very interesting. I had no idea we'd ever see a place like that for motorsports, and I'm glad to be a part of it (two No. 88 Thunderbirds are located in DAYTONA USA, Jarrett's car that won the 1996 Daytona 500 and the centerpiece of the "Ford/Ingersoll-Rand 16-Second Pit Stop Challenge" display). My personal highlight was seeing the movie ("The Daytona 500") and then walking out and seeing the race car that we won with in the Daytona 500 this year. I think that was the best thing.
MICHAEL WALTRIP (No. 21 Citgo Ford) -- I think it's real neat. It's exciting ("The Daytona 500" movie), and it's intense. It really gives you a feeling of what it's like to get ready to run the Daytona 500. Everybody's emotions seem like they're right there, and it's pretty exciting -- the whole experience. It's not just watching a film about the Daytona 500, it's experiencing the Daytona 500, which is neat.
GEOFF BODINE (No. 7 QVC Ford) -- I'm not a race fan -- I'm a competitor. I was impressed. It was really a lot of fun walking through DAYTONA USA and seeing all the exhibits. I especially liked the Goodyear Heritage of Daytona (historical walk-through). I kind of got lost in there. It showed the old beach course, and I ran into a gentleman who used to race there, Glen Wood (owner of No. 21 NASCAR Winston Cup car). They ought to hire him to narrate his experiences on the old beach course for the fans that come in there, because we stood there for at least 30 minutes, talking about the races, and how much fun they were. I was too young and never experienced a race on the beach course, and I enjoyed that more than anything. Then we went to the movie theatre, and that kind of reminded me of Disney World -- the way they set things up. The movie was great -- real exciting -- and I know the race fans are going to enjoy that. It sent chills through me, and heck, I go out every week and do that stuff. I know the fans are really going to enjoy that. It really gave you a feel of the Daytona 500 -- how big it is, how important it is, how tough it can be.
DERRIKE COPE (No. 12 Badcock Ford) -- I thought the movie was great. It's the first thing I've ever seen that made me feel like I was really there. DAYTONA USA will be great for the sport.
BILL ELLIOTT (No. 94 McDonald's Ford) -- It's a real nice deal. I really didn't get a chance to walk around and look at a lot of the stuff due to the unfortunate way I walk now (walking with a cane due to broken femur). I'll have to get back in there when I can get around so I can look at everything. It was so busy last night I didn't get to see everything. It's a pretty neat concept.
HUT STRICKLIN (No. 8 Circuit City Ford) -- I was really impressed with it. It's a great family place. I was really shocked. I don't really know what I was expecting, but I was shocked at all the things there was to do in there and all the things to see. It really brought back a lot of history, and brought back a lot of old memories. I think it's going to open a lot of eyes to a lot of things in racing that a lot of the average fans didn't know -- like about Bill France Sr. and a lot of the pioneers in racing. Plus it gives you a lot of feel for racing -- the pit stop competition and the racing games -- it's really a true sensation of what it's like in a race car. I think it will teach the average race fan a lot more about our sport. The things they have there, like Jeff Gordon's car coming apart piece by piece -- that's something the average fan never gets to see. To see that is definitely going to be a thrill for them.
RICKY CRAVEN (No. 41 Kodiak Chevrolet) -- It was phenomenal. It was really great. I have a greater feeling for the France family. What a great display that is. It's just another addition to this great facility. It gives the fans an opportunity to see things they may not have been able to see. That's how it was for me. You get exposed to an entire view of NASCAR.
JOHNNY BENSON (No. 30 Pennzoil Pontiac) -- It was great. Man, what a facility! It was pretty neat. I didn't get to spend as much time as I wanted to. Man, there were a lot of people over there. What an awesome facility! All of the attractions interested me. There are so many neat things to see, I'd like to go over there some other time when it's not as crowded -- but I think it's going to be crowded for quite a while.
JEFF GORDON (No. 24 DuPont Refinishes Chevrolet) -- I loved it! It was great! Obviously, I thought the DuPont display was pretty exciting, but really everything was -- from the video games, to the history, to the future of racing -- I thought there wasn't any place in DAYTONA USA where somebody wasn't having a good time, either learning something or just having a fun time. They did a great job with the arcade -- I'd give them an "A" for that.
DARRELL WALTRIP (No. 17 Parts America Chevrolet) -- I'm telling you, DAYTONA USA is awesome. The film ("The Daytona 500") was the biggest thing for me. I've never been anywhere where they capture that feeling -- the in the car stuff, in the pits, everything was bigger than life. It's so loud, and the sounds and the pictures -- I was breathless! I've never seen anything like that. I've been there and done that -- but I never saw it like that. I could go back there and watch it over and over again, it's so exciting to watch. It really makes you appreciate what all of us do a lot more. I knew what we did was exciting, and I knew the fans really got a thrill out of it, but I never realized, personally, what it was like until I saw that.