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Drivers looking for boost in Twin 125s



Published: Thu, February 13, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



A poor run at today's event at Daytona could send some home for the weekend.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Rusty Wallace needs to find some speed, Jimmy Spencer wants some luck, and rookie Larry Foyt is looking for a near-miracle.

There's a lot to lose and not that much to gain today in the twin 125-mile qualifying races.

Great runs get a driver a good starting spot in Sunday's season-opening Daytona 500. A poor race in the qualifying event could get a car sent home.

"We know we have to stay out of trouble and have a strong race to make the 500," Foyt said. "We're going to need some luck on our side. Luckily I start behind Jeff Gordon, so I hope he can just pull me along."

A victory in one of the two races gets the winner a spot in the second row for the start of the 500. In the 43 years the qualifiers have been run, only seven times has a driver won his qualifying race and then gone on to take the 500.

The late Dale Earnhardt was the last to do it in 1998.

All-out challenge

But drivers will still go all out today -- and hope to keep their cars intact.

"We're going to go and try to win the race," Kevin Harvick said. "I think that's what we have to do. I think that's the only way to approach it."

In Daytona's unique qualifying format, Jeff Green and Dale Earnhardt Jr. secured the front row starting spots in the 43-car lineup for the 500-miler by turning in the fastest speeds Monday in time trials.

Positions 3-30 will go to the top 14 finishers in the two qualifying races, excepting Green and Earnhardt.

The 31st through 36th spots will be filled by the fastest drivers from Monday's qualifying session who don't make it in the 125, with the remaining places going to the highest-finishing teams in last year's car-owner points that are not already in the Daytona 500 field.

"It can be intense," said Ricky Rudd, getting ready to race in his 26th consecutive Daytona 500 and an equal number of qualifying races. "There are a lot of guys here where that race is the only race they're thinking about. They're not even thinking about the Daytona 500.

"If they don't do well in the 125s, they won't have a Daytona 500. Other guys, like us, we're pretty good in points and, with our qualifying speed, the race has a little different meaning to us."

Looking for a rebound

Spencer wrecked during the 125 last year and didn't make the Daytona 500. His season never got rolling after that disappointment, and he lost his job with Chip Ganassi Racing at the end of the year.

He'll try to rebound in the No. 7 Dodge from Ultra Motorsports.

"I hope we don't have any trouble," Spencer said. "I think we'll be real good, at least that's what we're looking forward to."

Wallace, who made the switch from Ford to Dodge this season, has been slow all week.

"I'm devastated," Wallace said. "We need some speed."

But he's not desperate. His car finished seventh in owner points, so he should make the field without a problem. Spencer, on the other hand, is in a car that finished 38th in owner points.

There is an added element of strategy in the 125s this year, thanks to NASCAR's decision to use smaller gas tanks here to try to break up the big, dangerous packs of cars so common at Daytona.

It has been routine for the drivers to complete the 50 laps on Daytona International Speedway's 21/2-mile without a pit stop. On Thursday, everyone will have to stop once.

"Everyone's got to do it," Rudd said. "No one can afford to put on four tires if the track stays green. They're going to have to put on two tires, or gas and go.

"That's a different element than we've had to deal with in the past. Instead of all that pressure being on that driver to go out there and finish in that transfer spot, some of the pressure comes back to the crew if it stays green."

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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