With revoked license, rookie Wimmer 3rd

Driver considers charge of DWI `lesson learned'

12 cars caught in crash

Daytona 500

Notebook

February 16, 2004|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Rookie Scott Wimmer finished third yesterday at the Daytona 500, despite not having a driver's license.

Wimmer, 28, had his license revoked when he was charged with driving while intoxicated Jan. 31. Since then, there has been a debate in the NASCAR garages about whether he should be allowed to race.

Driver Kyle Petty said last week, "it sends the wrong message" to young people, but NASCAR rules do not require a competitor to have a valid driver's license.

"You know, I think I could be a role model to people in a way of a lesson learned," Wimmer said. "People keep saying that I'm not going to learn my lesson. But you sit at home for a couple days wondering if you're going to be able to drive a racecar again when that's all you know how to do, and that's a tough lesson.

"I'll make those people that say those things about me like me someday."

Wimmer drives the No. 22 Dodge owned by Bill Davis Racing. Yesterday, his crew chief Frank Stoddard made the decision to take just two tires on the last pit stop, on Lap 167.

That move took him out in the lead, ahead of Tony Stewart and eventual race winner Dale Earnhardt Jr., and though he got passed in the next three laps, he was still able to hang on for third, best among yesterday's rookies and the first top-five rookie finish since Jeff Gordon was fifth in 1993.

Wimmer will go to court in North Carolina on the DWI charge March 10.

The big one

Nearly every restrictor-plate race at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega, Ala. - where a piece of metal is attached to each car's carburetor to limit the airflow and reduce speeds - has a wreck that is referred to as "The Big One," because it tends to take out large numbers of cars.

Yesterday, despite the fact that cars were more spread out around the speedway, The Big One did happen, on Lap 72.

It led to the fourth of four cautions in the race and involved 12 cars.

Johnny Sauter's Chevrolet was running on the inside of the track coming out of Turn 2 when rookie Brian Vickers moved into the middle lane between him and Michael Waltrip. Sauter's car bobbled and moved up the track, pushing Vickers into Waltrip and setting off a wild crash that sent Waltrip, the winner of last year's 500, tumbling through the backstretch grass.

Waltrip was OK, but the crash eliminated him and a number of others - including Ryan Newman, Sterling Marlin and Jamie McMurray - from contention.

Drivers in charge

Stewart said he wasn't sure the fans thoroughly enjoyed what they saw in yesterday's 500. But he was sure the drivers enjoyed it more.

"Nobody likes running three abreast unless they can't drive their cars," he said. "When we have that three-wide, big-pack racing and guys can keep their foot to the floor all the way around the track, they'll stick the nose of their car in any hole they see.

"Today, no one could do that. I enjoyed it. I had to drive my car even when we were in a single-file line. Drivers had to drive and adjust. They had to know how they wanted to enter the corner, when to tug on the wheel to make it do something the car didn't want to do. It was nice for us as drivers. We actually got to race each other today."

Some of those who can drive demonstrated it. Gordon, who started 39th, finished eighth. Dale Jarrett, who started 31st, finished 10th. John Andretti, who started 29th, came home 13th. Besides Wimmer, another rookie, Brendan Gaughan, who played college basketball at Georgetown, finished inside the Top 20 at 19th.

Engine trouble

Ford drivers Mark Martin and Jeff Burton, who both drive for Jack Roush, finished 43rd and 42nd, respectively, when both fell out of the race early with engine problems.

The Roush cars came to Daytona with increased power after the offseason engine program merger between Roush and renowned engine builder Robert Yates.

Burton said he was worried after he saw Martin's engine blow on the eighth lap.

"When Greg [Biffle, the pole winner] had trouble with his engine Saturday, that was the first time we saw any indication of anything at all being wrong," Burton said of another of his teammates. "Then we had two [engine failures] today. We need to figure out what happened before we make assumptions or try to figure out what's going on. We really need all the facts."

Biffle, who had to start at the back of the field after changing his engine Saturday, finished 12th and ran as high as second.

The Roush team's other car, driven by Kurt Busch, finished 16th, a lap down.

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