Fuel cells throw new wrench into Daytona 125's.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Feb. 3, 2003) -- Drivers looking to secure a spot in the 45th annual Daytona 500 through the Feb. 13 Gatorade 125's will have something new to think about this year and that's a pit stop. The smaller fuel cells used ...

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Feb. 3, 2003) -- Drivers looking to secure a spot in the 45th annual Daytona 500 through the Feb. 13 Gatorade 125's will have something new to think about this year and that's a pit stop.

The smaller fuel cells used previously by NASCAR Winston Cup Series teams in the EA Sports 500 last October at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway will be in place during Speedweeks 2003 and the already unpredictable Gatorade 125's.

The Gatorade 125 qualifying races will complete the field for the Feb. 16 Daytona 500. The top-14 finishers in each Gatorade 125 (with the exception of the already qualified pole winner and outside pole winner) earn positions 3-30 on the starting grid. The rest of the 43-car field is filled based on qualifying speeds and car owner provisional points.

In past years, a driver could complete all 50 laps of his qualifier with a standard 22-gallon fuel cell without having to make a pit stop for gasoline. With the smaller fuel cells - which hold approximately 13.5 gallons of gas - they will have to make a pit stop in this year's Gatorade 125's.

For teams who lack owner's points or a fast qualifying speed, the Gatorade 125's are critical. Fans should keep a close eye on pit road because their favorite driver's pit strategy could be the key to making the starting field for stock car racing's richest and most prestigious race.

The smaller fuel cell will have the driver and crew chief pondering several questions during the Gatorade 125's.

When to pit? How many tires? How much fuel?

"It's another element and dimension to the race now," said 1990 Daytona 500 champion Derrike Cope, driver and owner of the No. 37 Friendly's Chevrolet who sits 53rd in the 2002 owner's standings. "You've just got to pay attention. You've got to have scenarios lined up - the what ifs - and when one of them comes on, you just have to react to that instinctively and make your decision and hope it's the right one."

Kyle Petty, driver of the No. 45 Georgia-Pacific Dodge, has made 23 starts in the Gatorade 125's. He has competed in the 50-lap qualifier when pit stops were necessary and is prepared to make one in his 50-lap qualifier next week.

"It's only been in recent years that you could run the full 125," said Petty, who sits 23rd in owner's points. "Many years before that, it was always a pit stop in the 125's. It just takes it back to the old strategy. The trick is going to be to pit right in the 125's and stay with the group because if you get separated you're not going to have enough time to get caught back up. It does change that strategy a little bit."

The fight to make the Daytona 500 goes green on Feb. 13 at 1 p.m. Tickets for the Gatorade 125's and other Speedweeks 2003 events are available at http://www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling the Speedway ticket office at (386) 253-7223.

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Derrike Cope , Kyle Petty