This time, battery is Earnhardt hex

0-for-500 stars make it 113 futile starts

yellow line nabs one


Daytona 500

February 17, 2003|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Dale Earnhardt Jr. knows all about bad luck in the Daytona 500. He watched his late father lose this race in innumerable ways before he finally won it.

Yesterday, the son of seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt entered the 500 as the favorite, just as his father usually did. And, like his father often did, found himself out of the running due to a quirk.

The strongest car here this week was forced into the pits on Lap 90 because the battery wasn't putting out enough power for the spark plugs.

Earnhardt lost two laps while his team changed the battery, but was able to make up only one before the rain, which had forced a 1-hour, 10-minute delay at Lap 64, came back for good on Lap 109.

A year ago, Earnhardt was taken from contention when he ran over a piece of debris from Michael Waltrip's car.

The wait gets longer

Terry Labonte, Rusty Wallace, Ricky Rudd, Mark Martin and Kyle Petty will have to wait another year for another try at victory in the 500. Their record of futility has grown to 0-for-113.

Rudd, 0-for-26, finished 15th, Labonte, 0-for-25, finished 30th, Petty, 0-for-22, finished 13th, Wallace, 0-for-20, 25th, and Martin, 0-for-19, finished fifth.

Yellow line woes

NASCAR officials went to great lengths to explain the enforcement of the yellow line rule during the pre-race drivers' meeting yesterday. Drivers were told if they went below the line to advance their position, they'd be black-flagged and assessed a stop-and-go penalty. Drivers were also told if they forced another car below the line, they, too, would be black-flagged and the car being pushed might go unpunished.

Driver Sterling Marlin was at the meeting, and on lap 73, he dipped below the yellow. Though Marlin said he'd been pushed there, NASCAR officials flagged him.

"In the end, it's a judgment," said NASCAR president Mike Helton.

Wild rides

Drivers Ken Schrader and Ryan Newman made contact coming out of the fourth turn on Lap 56, and Newman went for the wildest wide.

The No. 12 Dodge spun into the outside wall and then skimmed into the tri-oval grass. The rear end rose up ominously, and the car did a nose stand before turning and rolling side-over-side four times. As it tumbled, the entire axle flew off, along with most of the sheet metal.

Newman eventually emerged from the heap of scrap metal to cheers and waved to the crowd as he walked to the ambulance.

At the infield care facility, Newman and Schrader were examined and release.

"I was just at the wrong place at the wrong time and got up into the wall," said Newman. "After that, everything happened. Disney World doesn't have one of those rides, I can tell you that."

There were five caution flags for 23 laps, four accidents and no one was injured.

Travolta enjoys the day

Actor John Travolta, who was the grand marshal for yesterday's race, enjoyed his day at the race track. Accompanied by his wife, Kelly Preston, Travolta entertained the media with impersonations of famous performers giving the start-the-engines call, and attended the pre-race drivers' meeting.

"We want to thank John Travolta for being here," said Helton, as huge applause sounded. "We particularly want to thank him for bringing his wife."

A genuine race fan, Travolta once attended six Daytona 500s and 400s in a row. Yesterday, he joked, "I haven't had one line in 30 years," he said. "Where do you put the emphasis?"

When his time came, Travolta gave the command with flair.

Also at the drivers' meeting was Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, a top executive with AOL, which sponsors pole-sitter Jeff Green. It was Leonsis' first race.

"I have to say there aren't many similarities between the drivers and hockey players," said Leonsis. "The drivers are very relaxed, very in the moment with the fans sharing the experience. You'd never know they'll strap a race car on in a little while."

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