Harmony makes statement with 1-2 Daytona qualifying

DEI teamwork old hat, but it's new for Childress

February 14, 2003|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Michael Waltrip have been giving lessons in teamwork ever since Waltrip won the Daytona 500 in 2001, if anyone cared to watch. Yesterday, they did it again in their half of the Twin 125-Mile qualifying races.

And, in the first of the 125s, the cars of owner Richard Childress demonstrated they can do a pretty good impersonation - for at least 50 laps.

It was team day at Daytona International Speedway as Earnhardt and Waltrip drove their DEI Chevrolets to one-two finishes in their qualifying race and Robbie Gordon and Jeff Green did the same in theirs.

"It was our plan from the beginning to work together and support each other," said Green, the pole-sitter, who protected Gordon's position from third- place Ricky Rudd and his Ford over the closing 15 laps.

The results meant Green, who won the No. 1 starting spot for the Daytona 500 during qualifying runs Monday, will start the big race Sunday with Gordon behind him in the third position. And Earnhardt, who had already clinched the spot on the outside of the front row, will have his teammate, Waltrip, behind him in fourth.

"If it comes down to our two teams on Sunday, me and Michael will definitely whup them in a tag-team match," said Earnhardt, smiling in anticipation and suggesting teamwork among the Childress drivers is less than 100 percent.

Earnhardt is very much like his late father, seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt. He is not afraid to speak his mind. So, asked if he and Waltrip had an advantage over other multi-car teams because of working together successfully to win two of the past three races at Daytona, he had no trouble with his answer.

"Teammates can be good. Teammates can be bad. Teammates can be worse to you than just a regular other competitor," he said. "You have to know how to complement each other. You've got to know how to work with each other.

"What I was upset with last year was how they [the Childress drivers] worked against each other and didn't complement each other. Jeff [Green] and [Kevin] Harvick were much too competitive with each other at times.

"You've got Richard Childress over there busting his [backside] for all these years to get what he's got, and I don't think those guys appreciate what the man is in this sport and the opportunity they have in his race cars."

Earnhardt has a very soft spot in his heart for Childress, who was his father's car owner for six of his seven championships and for whom he drove several Busch races last season.

"I'll always wish Richard well, even though I don't see eye to eye with all of his drivers," Earnhardt said. "But they've just got a volatile little situation over there."

Green more or less acknowledged Earnhardt's statement, saying he was pleased with the way he and Gordon worked together yesterday.

"That's what it means to be teammates," he said. "Now, we have to convince Kevin [Harvick] to go along."

All of this, however, might be over the heads of everyone else in this race. All they see are two extremely strong teams.

"It's been a good week," said Rudd, who will start beside Todd Bodine in the third row Sunday. "But it looks to me like we're going to need about five cars to break down to have a chance at winning. Those DEI cars and Childress cars are the ones everyone has to beat. They're racy and they're dominant."

And most dominant among them is the one driven by Earnhardt, who has been laying the groundwork for the favorite's role. He won the Bud Shootout on Saturday in a romp. He qualified on the outside of the front row for the 500, and he's on the outside of the front row for the Koolerz 300 Busch race tomorrow.

Yesterday, he won his 125 qualifier with relative ease while averaging 180.845 mph.

If the rest of the week goes as smoothly, he could become the first driver to sweep all the major events here during Speedweek.

"I thought someone already did that," he said, in a veiled reference to his father, who won 34 events at Daytona and often dominated Speedweeks.

Two-time race winner Sterling Marlin emerged from his car campaigning for a rules change or some time to help create more passing opportunities and make it possible to challenge the leaders on the 2.5-mile tri-oval.

"The 500 is going to come down to who will follow who for 180 laps and then race the last 20," said a peeved Marlin, who finished fourth in the first race and will start seventh. "They need to do something to bust it up. We had a good car. I think our car was as good as the one that won the race, but we just never could get up there."

Even the drivers in the cars up front agreed with Marlin, to some extent.

"It was pretty apparent that the winner was going to be the guy who got out of the pits first," Gordon said. "I was lucky it was me."

And Earnhardt added: "I'm not going to say that first and second are just going to sit there and ride out front while everyone races hard behind them. But that is what is going to happen for the majority of the race. ... What I think you'll find very interesting is the pit stops."

In the first of the two races, the only way to make a pass was during the pit stop. That's how Gordon got the lead from Green, and it took a bold move by Green on the exit to stay in front of Rudd, who finished third in his Ford.

And in the second, a gas-only stop was how Earnhardt and Waltrip were able to pull away from the rest of the field.

At a glance

What: Daytona 500, opening race of NASCAR Winston Cup season

Site: Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, Fla.

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV: Chs. 45, 5

2002 champion: Ward Burton

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