Lepage Best of Rookie Bunch

Lepage best of rookie bunch Shawn A. Akers - NASCAR Online DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 12, 1998) Kenny Irwin, Steve Park, and Jerry Nadeau comprise one of the more highly-touted rookie classes to come along in NASCAR Winston Cup Series racing...

Lepage best of rookie bunch

Shawn A. Akers - NASCAR Online

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 12, 1998)

Kenny Irwin, Steve Park, and Jerry Nadeau comprise one of the more highly-touted rookie classes to come along in NASCAR Winston Cup Series racing in quite some time.

It was Kevin Lepage, however, running without a primary sponsor, mind you, that outshone them all during the Gatorade 125s at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday.

Lepage, in the No. 91 Little Joe's Auto Chevrolet, ran a quiet but steady 50 laps during his 125-mile event and wound up finishing ninth, allowing him to get a decent starting spot for Sunday's Daytona 500. While Kenny Irwin struggled to a 25th-place finish in the first Gatorade 125 race Thursday and Jerry Nadeau and Steve Park finished 12th and 27th, respectively, in the second 50-lap race, Lepage played it safe, stayed out of trouble, and gave his car owners a gift by qualifying for "The Great American Race."

"I guess we were the best in class today," said Lepage, who moved up from the NASCAR Busch Series ranks to drive the No. 91 Chevrolet at the end of the 1997 campaign. "I can't say enough for (owners) Doug Richert and Joe Falk. We sat down last night (Wednesday night) after practice and discussed some things we needed to do. We came back this morning at 7 and we made some major changes this morning.

"With the help of Dennis Fisher and John Wilson and Andy Hillenburg, my drafting partner out there - Chevrolet for supporting Joe Falk - without all those people involved, we wouldn't be where we are today.

Where Lepage is is solidly in Sunday's race. He'll start from the 20th position, on the outside of Row 10 alongside Bill Elliott.

"To be in the biggest race of the year in my first attempt with a non-sponsored race car with an under-financed team with no big-name people, it just proves there's a small place in NASCAR racing for these kind of people. I just want to finish the Daytona 500. That's my goal."

Nadeau's debut in the No. 13 Firstplus Financial Ford Taurus was an encouraging one. Nadeau reached as high as fourth midway during the race, faded back, but wound up finishing solidly. He'll start Sunday's race from the 26th position on the outside of Row 13. "It's a dream come true," Nadeau said. "I've worked so hard to get to this day and to have two great owners like Bill (Elliott) and Dan Marino, I'm just tickled to death. I'm more happy for the whole team because they've worked so hard these past two months for this qualifying race.

"The Taurus ran superb. I couldn't believe it. We thought we didn't have a chance when we first came down here because when we tested, we weren't that fast; and when we qualified, we were 34th fastest. But man, in the race that thing was honkin'."

Park suffered the worst misfortune among the rookies. The driver of the No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet was involved in a multi-car accident on the frontstretch on lap 8 with Ricky Rudd, Dave Marcis, Mark Gibson, Ricky Craven, and Darrell Waltrip. The car was so badly damaged that it couldn't continue.

Irwin, perhaps the leading candidate for Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors, driving for Robert Yates, slammed the wall on lap 33 of the first race and suffered damage to the No. 28 Texaco/Havoline Chevrolet. Irwin finished the race two laps down.

"I love that type of racing back and forth, and I was honestly having a ball out there until the mishap in turn two," Irwin said. "I honestly don't know what happened out there in turn two. I can't wait to watch the tape myself. I was just trying to stay in line."

Irwin took a provisional for Sunday's race and will start 38th.

Courtesy of NASCAR Online

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bill Elliott , Darrell Waltrip , Steve Park , Kevin Lepage , Jerry Nadeau , Andy Hillenburg , Dave Marcis , Mark Gibson , Robert Yates , Doug Richert