Earnhardt, Jarrett win 125-milers New rules continue to discourage passing

February 14, 1997

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The question that comes to mind after the Gatorade Twin 125-mile qualifying races for Sunday's Daytona 500: Can anyone not named Dale win these races?

For the eighth straight time, Dale Earnhardt came home the winner in his half of yesterday's twin races, and Dale Jarrett, the defending Daytona 500 champion, won a 125-miler for the first time.

"Did you expect someone else?" Earnhardt said before anyone could ask him a question. "It seems like a good omen to me for an eighth championship and the fact that I didn't win the Busch Clash, which I always win in odd-numbered years, bodes well for winning the 500."

What yesterday's twin races seemed to prove is that whoever gets out front Sunday has the best chance at victory.

After taking the lead on Lap 18, Earnhardt and his Chevrolet were never threatened, averaging 162.749 mph to beat Jeff Gordon to the finish by .182 of a second. As for Jarrett, his Ford led 45 of his race's 50 laps and averaged 166.113 mph. Jarrett gave up the lead just once, to teammate Ernie Irvan, for five laps.

Irvan finished third, on the bumper of 500 pole-sitter Mike Skinner, who finished .16 of a second behind Jarrett. Skinner ran an impressive race after falling far behind at the start.

"I learned they [other drivers] all lie a lot," said Skinner, a rookie. "All of them. I made a deal with somebody that I'd stay on the bottom of the track if they went with me. I found out deals were made for the garage area and not the racetrack."

Skinner's naivete brought grins to the faces of Jarrett and Earnhardt.

"If he found someone in the garage who would make a deal and then stick to it, that would have been a surprise," Jarrett said. "I wouldn't believe a word anyone said in there, especially in terms of making a deal that would help me."

Earnhardt, who said he, too, was probably taken in like that when he was a rookie, noted his teammate no doubt learned a valuable lesson.

"You don't know who will be your drafting partner in a race until you're in the race," he said.

Certainly almost everyone was looking for help yesterday. The ,, fear, after a single-file running of the Busch Clash on Sunday, was that fewer passes would be made in the 125s and in Sunday's 500, thus creating a less-than-exciting afternoon at the races.

The reason for the fear is new rules that raise the cars' rear ends an inch and change the air flow over the following car. Instead of flowing under a following car and creating an air pocket in which a trailing car can draft along, the air now flows up and over the hood and forms a barrier, preventing the following car from getting close enough to power a pass.

Yesterday, those fears were somewhat alleviated, but not as much as many drivers would have liked.

Jeff Gordon, who said there would be a lot of passing, found the going tough, but still insisted passes can be made.

"I waited until 10 laps to go to make a move and see if we could get some momentum, but I couldn't get anybody to give me a big enough boost," he said of his late efforts against Earnhardt. "Once Dale got out front, there was nothing we could do with him. But we showed them we can pass."

Sort of. Drivers did a good deal of passing early, but over the last 15 laps of each race, movement toward the front was rare.

"Out front is the place to be," Earnhardt said. "It seems if you're out front, you can almost dictate what goes on behind you."

(Twin 125 results, Daytona 500 lineup, 10D)

Pub Date: 2/14/97

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