Earnhardt's 16th is anything but sweet

February 21, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

DAYTONA BEACH, FLA — DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Six-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt had lost 15 Daytona 500s before yesterday's race. When it was over, the count was 16.

He was the favorite when the green flag dropped, and he wanted this victory for himself, his team and his best friend, Neil Bonnett, who was killed in a crash here 11 days ago.

But after leading 45 laps, the Chevrolet lost its handling. Earnhardt wound up a distant seventh.

"What can you say?" he said. "I just didn't have the car to win it this year. We'd won the Twin qualifier, the IROC and the Grand National race, but I didn't think we'd used up all our luck.

"Traffic got us, but we were so loose, anyway, I don't think I could have done anything with 'em."

He pointed out there is always a championship to run for this season and another Daytona 500 next year. "I've tried 16 times and haven't won it yet, but I'm not going to give up," he said.

Jarrett's struggle

Dale Jarrett won the Daytona 500 last year because everything went his way.

Yesterday, it was an entirely different story. He started in the next-to-the-last row, overcame a burned piston early, got the lead thanks to good gas mileage and then blew another piston. He finished 35th.

"If that caution hadn't come out," Jarrett said of the yellow flag on lap 141, "we might have won it on fuel mileage. But the car wasn't any good today."

A year ago, as part of a sponsorship deal with the NFL, Jarrett's team wore the helmets of the Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys. Yesterday, it did the same.

"But it didn't work out as well," Jarrett said. "I guess it's tough to win back-to-back Super Bowls."

Rookie's race

Pole-sitter Loy Allen Jr. led the field into the first turn yesterday, but then rolled backward. His Ford finished 22nd, two laps down.

"We're happy with the way things turned out," Allen said. "I think you age a little bit every time you're in a Winston Cup race. You sure learn a lot."

Gant's last Daytona

Harry Gant, who has driven full time on the Winston Cup circuit for the past 15 years and made other appearances from time to time over the past 21, has announced this is his last season.

He finished 34th, after his Chevrolet was damaged in a nine-car accident on lap 62.

"My last Daytona 500," said Gant. "I don't mind it. I didn't expect too much when we came here."

Out of sorts

Todd Bodine was one of 14 drivers who exchanged the lead 33 times in this race. But when it was over, he found himself on the sidelines, because -- as Bodine saw it -- driver Jeff Gordon tried to block him.

"For such a good kid with a great future, he made an awful stupid move," said Bodine, who finished 36th. "All he had to do was pull up behind Earnhardt and they would have passed me."

For his part, Gordon, who finished fourth, said: "He started to come up when I started to go down. It wasn't anything intentional."

Caution, caution

Two accidents in the first 200 miles separated 14 drivers from a chance to win. Neither wreck was caused by tire problems.

Records set

This 500 set records for the most cars running at the finish, with 34. There was also a record for most laps run by a last-place car. Rookie John Andretti circled the 2.5-mile speedway 47 times.

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