Championship dreams start in Daytona Shawn A. Akers - NASCAR Online DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 13, 1998) Championship dreams begin Saturday for several drivers in the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division with the NAPA Auto Parts 300.
Championship dreams start in Daytona
Shawn A. Akers - NASCAR Online
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 13, 1998)
Championship dreams begin Saturday for several drivers in the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division with the NAPA Auto Parts 300. Names like LaJoie, McLaughlin, Jones, Earnhardt Jr., and Sadler are brimming over with expectations and have set their goals high for 1998. But as each one knows, only the strong survive at the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway trioval, and a lot of hearts will be broken on this Valentine's Day. The two-time defending NASCAR Busch Series champion, LaJoie knows the thrill of victory at Daytona. He won his first race here a year ago, an objective that had eluded him until last February.
"What a big, big win that was last year," said LaJoie, who'll start 22nd in Saturday's race. "Everybody who comes down here and gets on that race track dreams about winning a race here because of its history.
"It's definitely a test of your wits, though. You go out there and run all out for 300 miles. When it's all over and you get to Victory Lane here, you know that you've accomplished something."
By now, running at Daytona is old hat for veterans like LaJoie. But there are others who are still trying to learn how to race and be competitive at tracks like Daytona.
"I like everything about Daytona," said Buckshot Jones, the young driver of the No. 00 Bayer/Alka Seltzer Pontiac. "I haven't competed on speedways where the draft is important, so this is still new to me. Daytona is considered the home of stock car racing, and to win here would be huge."
Elliott Sadler, who won the Bud Pole Award for last year's race in his first full season on the circuit, is looking forward to his second run at Daytona. "Sitting on the pole was a big boost, and it gave my team such a lift at the beginning of the year," said Sadler, who went on to finish fifth in the standings in 1997.
"It really got us started off on the right foot. I think we're going to be more prepared to race this year. Not just at Daytona, but every race we go to. We'd like to get things started off right, though, and a win here would be awesome."
Mike McLaughlin, driver of the No. 34 Goulds Pumps Chevrolet, will start from the point Saturday after winning the Bud Pole Award on Tuesday with a lap of 190.134 mph. No driver, however, has won the NAPA Auto Parts 300 from the pole since Jack Ingram in 1975.
"We've got a pretty fast race car," said McLaughlin, who finished fifth in the points race last season and is primed to make a run at the title in 1998. "Whether or not we can keep it out front for 120 laps or not remains to be seen, though.
"I know just how badly everybody wants to win here, including me. Winning the pole was a step in the right direction, now we've got to get it done under race conditions."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has some big shoes to fill as he begins his first full season in the NASCAR Busch Series. His famous father has won an incredible seven NASCAR Busch Series races at Daytona, including five in a row from 1990 to '94.
He also must live up to the expectations Steve Park set last season behind the wheel of the No. 3 ACDelco Chevrolet. Park finished seventh in last year's season-opener at Daytona. He went on to win three races and was the runaway selection for Raybestos Rookie of the Year Award.
Not one to be intimidated, Earnhardt Jr. has set some pretty lofty goals for himself - and not only for Daytona, but for the season as well. "We have a two-year contract for the Busch circuit, and this is a good way to start out - on our way to a championship," said Earnhardt Jr. after qualifying third for Saturday's race.
"A top-five season-ending finish is a definite reality. I just want to be competitive in Saturday's race, stay up front, and keep the ACDelco Monte Carlo on the television constantly. Ending up in Victory Lane is not out of the question for this team."
Courtesy of NASCAR Online