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DAYTONA 500 Practice crashes occur on final laps



Published: Sat, February 15, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



Three drivers will get their preparations for Thursday's twin 125-mile qualifying races done today.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Jeff Burton, Elliott Sadler and Mike Skinner will switch to backup cars after a crash Tuesday proved just how risky even practice for the Daytona 500 can be.

The five-car crash came on the front straightaway of the 21/2-mile oval with about four minutes left in the 60-minute practice, the only Winston Cup track time on the day's schedule.

Rookie Jack Sprague, a three-time NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion, was riding in the middle of a three-wide pack, with Steve Park above him on the banked Daytona International Speedway track and Skinner on the low side.

Slides and bangs

Sprague's Pontiac appeared to slide up the track, banging off Park, then sliding down into Skinner, who went sideways. Burton and Sadler then drove into the melee.

There were no injuries, but Skinner's Pontiac and the Fords of Burton and Sadler got the worst of the accident and were put out of action for the rest of this week.

Those three will have to get their preparations for Thursday's twin 125-mile qualifying races done in today's single 45-minute Winston Cup practice. It was the second year in a row that Burton and Sadler have been in wrecks that put them in backup cars for the season-opening race.

"I'm tired of wrecking in practice," Burton said.

The other drivers heaped most of the blame on Sprague, who is trying to qualify for his first Daytona 500.

"To the best of my knowledge, we got ran into by a rookie," Skinner said. "Whether he got pushed down there or not, I don't know."

Sprague said he was in the middle, while Park was on the outside "and he didn't stay up and he hit me in the right front, drove me into Skinner and it was all over."

Park's version

Park disagreed with that version, saying Sprague "bounced off me."

"I was up by the wall and couldn't go any higher, except for the grandstands," Park said.

"I've been here a lot more than Jack's been here. We all know how to race here, and we all know you don't even want to consider causing a crash during practice. You have to look at having the experience to run here, and not put yourself or your car in jeopardy."

It's hard to avoid this type of crash at Daytona. Thanks to the horsepower-sapping carburetor restrictor plates used here to slow the cars, the racing is often in huge packs.

"One thing about restrictor-plate racing is to go ahead and put your nose in there," Burton said. "You've got to run two- and three-wide in practice because that's what you're going to do in the race. Accidents happen."




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