Daytona Speedweeks

Daytona 500
Jeff Gordon started third in the Daytona 500 behind his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson. Of course, as a rookie Johnson could expect to be taken to school. On the start, he was. Gordon followed close behind him, but the pair got freight trained on the outside line.

By lap 3 Gordon had dropped to 10th place. Coming off turn two Tony Stewart dropped to the inside and coasted on the apron of the track-- a victim of an early blown engine. Stewart's run for the Winston Cup title took an early hit with a 43rd place finish. On the track, Gordon dropped to 18th on lap 6 but made his way back up to 15th just two laps later. He drafted with Kenny Wallace on the low line to move up to 13th on lap 10 but was shuffled back to 17th four laps later. The first caution of the day came out on lap 19 when Dale Earnhardt Jr cut a tire heading into turn one. Gordon came onto pit road and left in 9th. On the restart on lap 28 he was shuffled back once again, falling as low as 20th on lap 34.

He worked with Mark Martin and Rusty Wallace to move up to 6th by lap 50. Earnhardt Jr worked his way back into the lead pack by lap 65 and passed Gordon for eighth on lap 65. As the race progressed, Gordon used the inside line to his advantage moving up to 4th on lap 75. Green flag pit stops soon followed. Immediately after that Dave Marcis, in the final race of his career, stalled in turn four to bring out a caution flag. Gordon came onto pit road and took fuel only.

He restarted back in 25th position. The next caution came out on lap 95 when Earnhardt Jr blew the right rear tire on his Budweiser Chevrolet and drove through the infield grass. Earnhardt Jr would go behind the wall for repairs as his season got off to a disappointing start. Gordon stayed on track during the caution flag and moved up to 4th for the restart. The next caution was just a few laps away when Brett Bodine spun in turn one. On the restart Gordon was shuffled back to 10th on lap 111. He worked with Ryan Newman to climb up to 6th and drafted with Kevin Harvick to gain 4th on lap 130. Eight laps later the caution waved when Shawna Robinson lost it in turn two and took out Mike Skinner on the backstretch. Gordon came onto pit road in fourth and left in third position.

On the restart on lap 143, Gordon was in third behind Sterling Marlin and Harvick. On lap 149 Gordon dove low entering turn one to pass Harvick who came down to block. Gordon's left front hit the left rear of Harvick's car sending the GM Goodwrench Chevrolet into a backwards spin into the wall. A total of sixteen cars were collected in the ensuing melee as Gordon was able to get around Harvick before he came back up the track. Harvick was hit by John Andretti and Jeremy Mayfield as he came down the track from the wall. Kenny Wallace, Bobby Hamilton, Ken Schrader, Matt Kenseth, Ricky Rudd, Casey Atwood, Todd Bodine, Kyle Petty and Earnhardt Jr all suffered heavy damage in the crash.

Gordon restarted in 11th position after a pit stop and moved up to 6th with 38 laps remaining working with Jeff Green in the draft. With drafting help from Elliott Sadler he took over 5th with 35 laps to go. Gordon moved up to 4th after the freight train drafting pack went around Dale Jarrett. With 29 laps remaining, Jimmie Johnson cut a tire and spun on the grass entering turn one. The caution waved and Gordon stayed on the track to gain track position. He restarted in 2nd place behind Kurt Busch with 24 laps remaining.

With drafting help from Sterling Marlin, Gordon passed Busch for the lead entering turn three. He led Marlin over the next few laps before Robby Gordon crashed coming off turn two with 9 laps remaining. On the restart with six laps remaining, Marlin pulled back to get a strong run at Gordon. However, the field stacked up behind him with Michael Waltrip spinning onto the infield. Terry Labonte and Rusty Wallace both made hard contact with the wall. Marlin went low to pass Gordon for the lead. Gordon came down to block and was spun into the infield by Marlin. The caution waved and Gordon came onto pit road for tires. The race was red flagged for 20 minutes to guarantee a green flag finish. When the cars stopped on the backstretch, Marlin exited his Dodge and pulled sheet metal away from the right front tire where he had made contact with Gordon. However, it is against NASCAR rules to work on a car during a red flag condition. NASCAR penalized Marlin to the end of the longest line for the ensuing restart.

Meanwhile, Ward Burton had inherited the lead after Marlin's penalty. On the restart with three laps remaining, Gordon and Marlin charged from 11th and 12th position. Martin spun Dale Jarrett at the exit of the tri-oval as the field took the white flag. Jarrett's top five finish would deteriorate into 14th place. At the front of the field, Burton held off Sadler and Geoffrey Bodine to win his fourth career race. Gordon had moved up to 9th at the finish and scored his first top ten in the Daytona 500 since winning in 1999. A wild day at Daytona, a wild start to the season.

Jeff's Post Race Comments:

"I should have just given up when (Sterling Marlin) got beside me and still had a battle and a shot to win the thing. I hated to see that last caution. We were in a perfect position. Crazy race out there. I went from the back to the front, the front to the back. It was incredible. I'm just glad to finish ninth. It was a great effort for us today."

On the lap 148 incident with Kevin Harvick:
"I was getting knocked from behind and pushed and shoved. I was trying to stay in line and I gave Kevin a little push and he got up beside the 40 car and then he decided to come back down and I just kinda held my line. I didn't go below the yellow line. I was trying to back down and let him back in, actually. So we touched and it spun him. Its unfortunate because he was running good. And he's doing a great job. It certainly wasn't anything intentional. I hate to see such a big wreck like that."

On the last restart:
"There are so many cars that had problems today. We had a good handling race car, a fast race car, and we had great pit stops and we were able to work our way back up there and found ourselves in perfect position. Unfortunately, that caution came out and me and Sterling knew how important that last restart was, and he got a jump on me. I tried to block him and messed up both of our days."

Gatorade 125-mile Qualifying Race
Jeff Gordon passed Jimmie Johnson for the lead coming off turn two on the opening lap and was never challenged in winning Thursday afternoon's first Twin 125-mile qualifying race. Gordon will start third in Sunday's Daytona 500 alongside Michael Waltrip who won the second qualifying race on Thursday. Dale Earnhardt Jr looked to challenge Gordon in the closing laps but a block on the backstretch with two laps remaining foiled his charge. Earnhardt was unable to mount a serious challenge from that point after fending off a last lap challenge from Ken Schrader to hold on to the second position. The win was Gordon's second career victory in a Twin 125-mile qualifying race and first since his rookie season of 1993. "Junior gave me a heck of a fight and I had my hands full there," Gordon said. "The car just drove so good all week long. All winter long those guys at Hendrick Motorsports did such an awesome job preparing these cars. We wanted that third spot and we got it. I'm just so excited about my raceteam. I can't believe that we've come back after the 2001 season like we had and we're off to such a great start here. The car is just phenomenal and it makes my job a whole lot easier. I'm looking forward to Sunday. This is the best chance we've had in a long time to win the Daytona 500." He'll lineup behind Jimmie Johnson to start Sunday's race.
Among the notable starters on Sunday are Dave Marcis, making his 33rd and final Daytona 500 start in the final race of his career, and Shawna Robinson, only the second woman to start a Daytona 500 event. Some of the noteables who failed to qualify for the season-opening event include Jimmy Spencer, Hut Stricklin, Buckshot Jones, and Rick Mast.

Bud Shootout - Sunday, February 10
Race report by Shane Murley
On a overcast day at Daytona, Tony Stewart prevailed for the second consecutive year in the Bud Shootout exhibition race. He led 37 of the 70 laps to claim the victory.

Jeff Gordon started 22nd and worked his way up to 16th in the opening laps. He dropped back to 22nd, moved back up to 19th and worked his way into the top five by lap 20.

Stewart led early but Dale Earnhardt Jr took the lead on lap 22 and stayed there for a bit until Stewart retook the lead. At halfway, Earnhardt took the lead with Gordon in 5th. After pit stops on lap 40, Gordon dropped out of the top ten. He drafted with Stacey Compton to catch the lead pack.

Ken Schrader took the lead on lap 46. Two laps later, Gordon charged up to 5th. With five laps remaining, Gordon was still in 5th, and made a move past Ken Schrader on lap 66 to take 4th. With two laps remaining he got a strong run on the high side and passed Sterling Marlin for third. At the front of the field, Stewart and Earnhardt were running nose to tail. On the white flag lap, Gordon moved to the outside of Earnhardt in turn three and inched ahead as they came off turn four. Stewart was able to pull away to an easy victory while Earnhardt and Gordon traded paint to the finish line. Earnhardt edged Gordon by inches for the runner up spot. Schrader was fourth followed by Marlin in fifth.

"It was fun," Gordon said of the last five laps. "I knew I couldn't do anything from 5th, so I made the moves. Me and Junior were bumpin' and bangin' each other around until the end. That was one great race."

Daytona 500 Pole Qualifying - Saturday, February 9
Jeff Gordon turned the third fastest lap in qualifying for the Daytona 500 and will lineup on the outside of the front row in Thursday's first Twin 125-mile qualifying race. Starting on the inside of Gordon will be his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson who captured the pole position for the Daytona 500 with a lap of 185.835. Gordon can start as high as third in the Daytona 500 (providing his wins his qualifying race) and as low as 31st (if he finishes outside of the top 15 on Thursday). Only Johnson and Kevin Harvick's front row starting positions are locked in for the Daytona 500.

Jeff's comments after qualifying:

"We're really happy with the effort by the DuPont Chevrolet team. These guys have worked so hard over the winter to prepare for Daytona. It's nice to see the results. They did a great job and so did the guys on the #48 (Jimmie Johnson) team. We've been about a tenth off of them ever since we've built these cars - from testing and practicing and now qualifying - but we're real happy with that. That was a solid lap."

How do the 24 car and the 48 car compare?
"They're identical-- the way they felt the way they drove. I saw Jimmie get loose over there in turn 4 during qualifying and I figured my car would do the same thing, and it did.

Do you think that people look at Jimmie Johnson and think of him as a second Jeff Gordon?
"I had a lot to do with picking Jimmie to be a part of that team. Maybe I saw some of myself in Jimmie. I like his style. I like the way he does things. I like the way he handles himself in the racecar and I like the talent he has. This is just Daytona. You just hope that the experience of the other teams at Hendrick Motorsports will benefit a new team coming it. They've obviously done a great job of getting off to a great start here at Daytona. We (the drivers) don't have anything to do with what happens in qualifying here at Daytona. We push the pedal down and that's it. If these cars could be run by remote control, they'd run just as fast as we just ran out there. So that (driving ability) has nothing to do with it. When we get out there and draft and when we get to Rockingham, we'll find out what kind of drivers we have. Right now, we rely on the teams and resources at Hendrick Motorsports."

How is this Daytona 500 going to be different from last year?
"It was kind of like the luck of the draw before. Whether you were shuffling forward or shuffling back-- is where you ended up at the end when the checkered fell. Now, you're going to have to think about what you do. You've got to plan your passes. You've got to plan your moves. You've really got to be a smart driver out there if you're going to get to the front and stay there. But I'm excited about that. I've got a great car and a great team. I like to plan my steps along the way."

What's left to be gained in your car?
"Now that we start drafting, we'll just try to get that spoiler out of the air. It's catching so much air out there that it holds you back from making the moves that you want to make. I've been doing some drafting in the Bud Shootout car. It's back to the way it used to be, but it's a little tougher. You've got to really plan your moves. And we're working on handling. The cars are real tight. We're trying to get the front end down and get the handling good so we can run wide open the whole time."

What makes it tougher to pass this year?
"The rules. Now we're not punching as big a hole through the air so the cars can't suck-up quite as good. The restrictor plates put us a little bit down on horsepower. When you run up on a guy, the momentum isn't there the way it used to be. But I was not in favor of what we had before. I'm much more in favor of this. I think it could be even better. As a driver, I like to play more of a role in what's going to happen out there on race day."

+Pole qualifying results

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