DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 9, 1999) For some drivers, Thursday's Gatorade 125-Mile Qualifying Races for the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway are merely tune-up exercises for the big one -- Sunday's "Great American Race." Drivers...
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 9, 1999) For some drivers, Thursday's Gatorade 125-Mile Qualifying Races for the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway are merely tune-up exercises for the big one -- Sunday's "Great American Race."
Drivers like Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Dale Jarrett know that no matter what happens on Thursday, Sunday is still "in the bag."
For others like Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Dan Pardus, there is no Sunday without a big day Thursday. There are no front row laurels to rest on. No provisionals from a top points finish in 1998. Only a chance on Thursday to make a dream come true.
Pardus will start 15th out of 30 cars in the first Gatorade 125. If he doesn't lose any ground from there, and no one -- namely Gordon -- drops out, he will make the field. By the skin of his teeth, mind you, but he will make the field. Some big names looking to get in will be lined up behind him, like Ricky Rudd, Bill Elliott and Darrell Waltrip.
"We're going to start in the middle of the pack, and basically, we just want to stay there," said Pardus. "I want to hook up with somebody and draft. If the car can move up through the pack, I'm going to do it safely. If not, I'll do the right things and we'll get a good top-15 finish and get into the Daytona 500."
The Daytona 500 has been the target since MidWest Transit Racing started its massive, race-shop buildup just four short months ago. If he makes it, it will be Pardus' second NASCAR Winston Cup start at the "World Center of Racing." He started in October's Pepsi 400 but crashed during the race.
'If' isn't in Dale Jarrett's game plan. The two-time winner of the Daytona 500 is in the race again this year. Provisionals will see to that if Thursday doesn't. He says he can feel for a guy like Pardus, who faces a mountain of pressure steeper than the banks at DIS.
"I think there's a huge amount of pressure for some people," he said. "We're in the Daytona 500. We don't have to worry about it. To be in a position of not knowing if your speed is going to get you in with the prestige of this race, that's brought on a lot of pressure, more so because of how close the competition is. I think you are going to see some guys on Thursday take a few more chances than what we've seen. Plus it's your best opportunity to see exactly what your car is going to do for Sunday. We can't simulate that racing in practice sessions as hard as we try."
Pardus is attacking the pressure with confidence. He chooses to look at success on Thursday as a given, not a possibility.
"The Daytona 500 is a long race," said Pardus. "When we get started, I'll be conservative. I'll have a good solid race car under me so we can finish that thing. I believe we can have a good finish. We've got good equipment.
"The Midwest Transit Racing team is doing great. I'm very proud of this team. If we can do well in the Gatorade Twins and make the Daytona 500 that will be a big shot in the arm for them. I've got to do a good job now, and I'm ready. It's a long two weeks here and if I can do well in the Twins, that'll get them really fired up again. They're excited. They want this as much as I do and we can make it happen."
Source: NASCAR Online