Jeff Gordon, Michael Waltrip Capture Gatorade 125's DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Feb. 14, 2002) - Jeff Gordon and Michael Waltrip claimed victories in Thursday's Gatorade 125's at Daytona International Speedway as the field for Sunday's 44th annual ...
Jeff Gordon, Michael Waltrip Capture Gatorade 125's
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Feb. 14, 2002) - Jeff Gordon and Michael Waltrip claimed victories in Thursday's Gatorade 125's at Daytona International Speedway as the field for Sunday's 44th annual Daytona 500 was finalized.
Gordon led all 50 laps of the first Gatorade 125-mile qualifier and then held off the runner-up Dale Earnhardt Jr. and third-place finisher Ken Schrader for a .162 margin of victory. Rounding out the top five were Ricky Rudd and Terry Labonte.
In the second Gatorade 125-mile qualifier, Michael Waltrip, the defending Daytona 500 winner, made a return trip to Victory Lane with a .094-second victory over runner-up Tony Stewart and third-place finisher Jerry Nadeau.
Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Automotive Finishes Chevrolet, earned his ninth career victory at DIS and his second in the Gatorade 125's. He says being in front is the place to be at the end of the race.
"We got off to a good start on that front row and having a teammate like Terry Labonte behind me," Gordon said. "We've got a really strong race car. These guys have done an incredible job preparing all the cars, especially the 24 car to come to Daytona.
"When you've got that strong of a car to get out front, the leader has a huge advantage. Even when cars get a big run on you, it's extremely hard to make the pass happen. Junior had a couple of run on me and I thought he might have me, but we were able to shut the door on him and come home with a win in the 125's which is extremely exciting because it has been since 1993."
Earnhardt Jr., piloting the same No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet that won the 2001 Pepsi 400, finished second for the second time this Speedweeks. He also took bridesmaid honors in last Sunday's Budweiser Shootout At Daytona.
"We're getting tired of finishing second," Earnhardt Jr. said.
Waltrip made his No. 15 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet as wide as he could in the closing laps of his victory, making it impossible for Stewart to make a pass.
"Michael Waltrip did a great job," Stewart said. "That car got real wide, but he did a great job all day. He's got a really good car, too. There are a good 12 or 14 or 16 cars that are really in contention to win this thing on Sunday."
Said Waltrip: "That was the best I've ever driven, those last 10 laps. I was real proud of that. I've got a whole lot going for me and I've got a great opportunity to win my second straight Daytona 500."
While guests at the Speedway were glued watching the front pack of the Gatorade 125's, they were also keeping an eye on the transfer position to see which drivers would or would not qualify for the Daytona 500.
Dave Marcis, who plans to retire as a Winston Cup driver of the No. 71 Realtree Chevrolet after the Daytona 500, has qualified for the "Great American Race" with his seventh-place finish in the second Gatorade 125-mile qualifier. Marcis will make his 33rd start in the Daytona 500 from the 14th position, which will break Richard Petty's record for most Daytona 500 starts.
"I have to thank the Richard Childress organization. We have his engine, but they also worked on our car. My guys have been working night and ay. I only have four full-time employees. It's fantastic, I couldn't have asked for any more."
Also cracking the field is Shawna Robinson, who will become the first female competitor in the Daytona 500 since Janet Guthrie in 1980. Robinson, who'll make the field based on her qualifying speed, will start her No. 49 BAM Racing Dodge in the 36th position.
Among the big names that will miss the Daytona 500 include 1994 Pepsi 400 winner Jimmy Spencer, Greg Biffle, Buckshot Jones, Hut Stricklin and Rick Mast.
Tickets for all Speedweeks events are available by calling the Speedway ticket office at (386) 253-7223.