Daytona contenders

Auto Racing

February 17, 2002|By Sandra McKee

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: "I'm sick of finishing second," Earnhardt said after collecting his second runner-up finish of the week in the Twin 125 qualifying race Thursday. But he didn't seem to be trying as hard as he could in those races. "If it was the 500, I probably would have been going for it a little harder," he said with a sly grin, refusing to show his hand. Earnhardt, who drives the Bud Chevrolet, was second in what was a tragic race last year. His plan over the past two days was to spend much of his time figuring out what he can do to make a successful pass to win today.

Jeff Gordon: Coming off his fourth championship, Gordon has expressed his strong desire to start the season well and win a fifth title. Since arriving here, his Dupont Chevrolet has been dominant. Gordon, a two-time 500 winner, has experience, a fine pit crew and a strong car on his side.

Tony Stewart: He's a lion waiting to roar. He has all the talent and all the equipment in his Joe Gibbs-owned Home Depot Pontiac. If he has to, he's capable of powering his way around this 2.5-mile tri-oval all by himself. All he needs is a little something -- a helpmate or a good pit stop -- to get the lead. If he does, watch out.

Michael Waltrip: Some people continue to think Waltrip's victory here last year in his NAPA Chevrolet was a fluke, that his runner-up finish in the Pepsi 400 last July was another, and that his victory in the Twin 125 qualifying race Thursday was, too. But how many flukes can one man have? "Michael is going to do all right," said Darrell Waltrip, his older brother and a three-time Winston Cup champion. "He was with a brand-new team last year and he had his heart just ripped apart here. You wait and see how well he does this season."

Ricky Rudd: His Texaco Ford has been running consistently with the top cars, even before a rules change Friday that cut another quarter-inch off the rear spoiler. The change was intended to help the Dodge and Ford racers, but creates a question of how the cars will react in competition. Of the Fords, Rudd's has been best.

Others to watch: Ken Schrader, Terry Labonte, Kevin Harvick (all Chevys) Bobby Labonte (Pontiac), Ward Burton, Dale Jarrett (Fords), and Sterling Marlin (Dodge) are all solid choices.

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