After struggling last season, Ken Schrader gained the 30th starting position for Sunday's Daytona 500.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Comeback? Ken Schrader insists he's never been away.
The 18-year Winston Cup veteran caused some buzz at Daytona International Speedway last Saturday night when he was one of the strongest entries in the Bud Shootout, a 175-mile non-points race for pole winners.
He finished sixth in the first opportunity for the drivers to try out their 2003 cars under race conditions.
Making Sunday's Daytona 500 field turned out to be harder.
With a poor 40th-place on the speed chart from time trials and with his new team too low on last year's car-owner points from 2002, Schrader had to finish 15th or better in his 125-mile qualifying race Thursday.
He earned the 30th starting position in the 43-car grid, but it was a close call.
"We knew we had to race into the 500," Schrader said. "We needed to run 15th, and that's what we did. That was the plan, and I guess it worked out."
In a Dodge
He made the big show in a Dodge fielded by the virtually new and untested BAM Racing team.
"We just surprised them," Schrader said. "Last year we ran fourth in the Shootout and led 46 laps in the Daytona 500. ... It didn't surprise them then, I guess, because of the team I was with. We were expected to do that."
The BAM team, owned by Tony and Beth Ann Morgenthau from Coral Gables, will attempt to run the full 36-race schedule for the first time this season.
Last year, while going through six different drivers, the No. 49 BAM entry made it into 16 of 20 races it entered. Its best finish was 22nd by Stacy Compton in the October race at Talladega.
At the same time, Schrader was struggling through a miserable season with MB2 Motorsports, finishing 30th in the points -- his first time outside the top 20 since he became a Winston Cup regular in 1985.
Schrader, whose last of four wins came in 1991, isn't setting any personal goals. He just wants to be competitive again.
"Yeah, that's the only reason I'm doing this," he said. "This is a lot of work just to ride around.
"If that was all I could do, I'd go do something else that was easier. It might not be as much fun, but riding around is no fun either."
BAM general manager Eddie Jones is excited about the team's prospects, and his enthusiasm is one reason Schrader took the job.
"Last year, we showed NASCAR and other competitors that we were a real entity in the sport," Jones said. "That allowed us to hire the crew chief we needed and get the other key personnel to work for us.
"Then that enabled us to get Kenny, and that brought sponsorship."
Jones believes Schrader can show his true ability this year.
"He likes our equipment and he likes our personnel," Jones said. "Not that he wasn't giving 100 percent with the last team he was with, but he is very, very, very enthusiastic about what he is doing now. He says he thinks we're going to catch a lot of people off guard."