BUSCH: Daytona II: Event preview

NASCAR Busch Series becomes part of holiday tradition at Daytona. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 2, 2002) - The first installment of what promises to be a stunning showcase for the NASCAR Busch Series is set for Friday night at Daytona International...

NASCAR Busch Series becomes part of holiday tradition at Daytona.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 2, 2002) - The first installment of what promises to be a stunning showcase for the NASCAR Busch Series is set for Friday night at Daytona International Speedway.

That's right - night.

Racing under the lights at Daytona, a superspeedway spectacle unveiled in 1998 for the NASCAR Winston Cup Series' Pepsi 400, is being expanded this year to include the NASCAR Busch Series, with Friday night's inaugural Stacker2/GNC Live Well 250.

The NASCAR Busch Series will thus be included in the red-white-and-blue ambiance of a holiday stock-car tradition that dates to 1959, when NASCAR started holding an event then known as the Firecracker 250 on July 4.

Eventually, the scheduling was altered, and the race (its name changed to the Firecracker 400, then the Pepsi 400) was switched to the first Saturday in July. Also, the race used to start in the morning, to avoid summer's intense heat and almost-certain afternoon rain.

Day or night...racing on July 4 or close to it...it doesn't matter. The weekend always has been a highlight of the NASCAR Winston Cup season.

Now, for the first time, the NASCAR Busch Series is getting involved.

Drivers in the nation's No. 2 motorsports series are ready, and excited, especially two-time series champion Randy LaJoie, also a three-time winner of the annual NASCAR Busch race held in February at Daytona. LaJoie (No. 7 Kleenex/Nortel Networks Chevrolet) recognizes the increased visibility sure to result via a prime-time run at NASCAR's most famous racetrack. He also recognizes that he'll be one of the favorites to capitalize on that exposure, given his past successes on the 2.5-mile tri-oval; LaJoie won the NASCAR Busch Series season opener at Daytona in 1997, '99 and 2001.

"I'm due for another win at Daytona, since I seem to win every other year," said LaJoie, whose car will have a patriotic "Stars and Stripes" paint scheme, in honor of the holiday weekend. The paint scheme already has been displayed in three previous races this season, including the Memorial Day weekend event at Lowe's Motor Speedway (Concord, N.C.).

LaJoie stands seventh in the NASCAR Busch Series points. Now is the time to make a move, if he is to challenge seriously for a third championship. LaJoie has hung tough in the title chase, even though he has yet to win a race.

"We're all starting to get impatient about a win and I can't imagine a better time for it to come than at Daytona," said LaJoie's crew chief Wally Rogers.

Jack Sprague (No. 24 NetZero Chevrolet) knows about impatience. Even though he's a three-time NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion, he had to run 90 NASCAR Busch Series races before winning. Finally, he broke through, earlier this month at Nashville Superspeedway. In lieu of dominance this season, Sprague has shown remarkable consistency. That has been enough to put him atop the series standings coming to Daytona, and entering the second half of the season many considered him the favorite to win the championship.

"Racing under the lights at Daytona - how cool is that?" Sprague said.

"I know I'm in for a surprise. It should be a thrill. My guess is that Friday night's race will be one of the coolest times I'll have all year when it comes to racing."

Kevin Lepage, who recently replaced injured Jeff Purvis in the No. 37 Timber Wolf Chevrolet, might have an edge on the competition Friday. He knows exactly how cool this week's experience will be.

"I've raced under the lights at Daytona in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series and it's an awesome sight," Lepage said."It's so different from our other night races because Daytona is so big and fast. This race should be a real treat for the fans.

"But the only advantage I feel I'll have is from the spotters' stand. Donna, my wife, spotted for me last year [in the Pepsi 400]. The fact that she has spotted for me at Daytona under the lights is a plus. Other than that, there's no advantage."

Bobby Hamilton Jr. (No. 25 U.S. Marine Corps Ford) is one of the youngsters emerging this season in NASCAR. But at the age of 24, he sounds like a sage veteran assessing the significance of Friday's new NASCAR Busch event.

"There is something about racing under the lights that makes things a little more exciting for drivers as well as the fans," Hamilton said."You can't really put your finger on it but you can definitely feel the added excitement in the air. I think that excitement will be magnified at Daytona because it is Daytona. Racing there any time, day or night, is special because the place has so much history.

"I think every driver wants to win at Daytona to be part of that history."

LaJoie perhaps summed it up best, regarding what a win Friday night would mean to NASCAR Busch drivers:

"It would be awesome."


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Drivers Kevin Lepage , Bobby Hamilton Jr. , Jack Sprague , Jeff Purvis