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NASCAR Earnhardt, Childress teams own top spots



Published: Fri, February 14, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



Jeff Green has the pole, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Robby Gordon and Michael Waltrip.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- It's looking like a DEI-RCR showdown in the Daytona 500.

Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Richard Childress Racing -- two of the strongest restrictor-plate teams in NASCAR -- will start from the first four spots Sunday in the Daytona 500.

Jeff Green will start from the pole in an RCR Chevrolet, followed DEI's Dale Earnhardt Jr., RCR's Robby Gordon and DEI's Michael Waltrip.

It's a natural rivalry -- after all, the late Dale Earnhardt won six of his seven championships driving for Childress and founded his own team.

"It's really hard to decide, if you were going to lose, who would you pick to lose," Earnhardt Jr. said Thursday. "That's one of the toughest deals because you have guys that are sentimental favorites, even for me."

Two years ago, his father was killed on the final lap.

RCR has been slow to pick up the pieces, but has shown signs this week of snapping its slump.

Good week

Gordon and Green finished 1-2 in the first of Thursday's twin 125-mile qualifying races. In the second race, the DEI tandem of Earnhardt and Waltrip crossed the finish line in first and second.

Earnhardt, the favorite Sunday, thinks he and Waltrip will have the advantage if the two teams have to gang up on each other.

"Michael and I would definitely whoop them in a tag team drafting match," he said.

DEI cars have won six of the past eight Winston Cup plate races, and Earnhardt won the Budweiser Shootout last Saturday. He has his sights set on Saturday's Busch series race and a victory on Sunday in the biggest event of the year.

But the RCR gang might be ready to spoil the party.

"I heard Junior say that he hopes he can sweep this deal," Gordon said. "My goal is that he doesn't sweep the deal.

"He and Michael have been real strong in restrictor-plate races. RCR has a great history at restrictor plate races, as well, and I'm going to do everything I can to give Richard his second Daytona 500 victory."

Strong alliance

RCR and DEI have long worked together, especially on their restrictor-plate programs. They formed an alliance with car owner Andy Petree -- creating "RAD" four years ago.

The program soared in 2001, when RAD cars won the four races at Daytona and Talladega, the two longest and fastest ovals in NASCAR. Changes were made to it last year, but the DEI cars continued to thrive.

RCR, however, was going through growing pains as it expanded from two cars to three while trying to regroup after the elder Earnhardt's death. It looks like things are on their way back up.

Gordon, starting his second full season driving for Childress, said watching the DEI teams has given him and teammates Green and Kevin Harvick a model to follow.

"Obviously the two teams have worked real good together, I'm sure that was Dale Sr.'s plan when he put those programs together," Gordon said. "They work together, they share information and I think that helps when you have two and three teams."

Harvick starts 31st in Sunday's race and Steve Park will go from 33rd in the third DEI car.

Qualifying problems

Both had problems in Thursday's qualifiers, the only weakness among the two teams.

Park had engine problems in the first race and had to drop out. Harvick's car was damaged in a pit-road collision with Kurt Busch in the second qualifier.

Busch spun after he cut off Harvick entering the pits, forcing other drivers to dart around him. It left Harvick's Chevrolet with right front fender damage and a bone to pick with Busch.

"It's not the first stupid thing I've seen him do and I've done some stupid things, too," Harvick said. "The 97 came flying through there with all four tires smoking and out of control. Basically, he tore the right side off our car and knocked us out of the race."

Busch took the blame but didn't say what happened.

"A lot of events led to the final outcome," he said. "The only real thing that we need to explain is that I'm sorry for making the mistake that I had made."




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