Stewart runs through grass, mows down field

He wins first Busch race

McMurray ready to grind

Daytona 500 notebook

February 20, 2005|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Dale Earnhardt Jr. was rolling down the front stretch when he looked to his left and saw Tony Stewart's Chevrolet flying through the grass and heading back toward the racetrack - in front of him.

"He took a page from an IROC race I saw once," said Earnhardt, recalling a day when his father, Dale Earnhardt, had performed a similar demonstration of driving skill to win an International Race of Champions event here. "I was so amazed [yesterday] by what I was seeing in front of my windshield, I didn't even think about all those guys behind me. I just slowed way down. The guys behind me must have been standing on their brakes."

It was the move that won Stewart his first Busch Series race, the Hershey's Take 5 300. It came on Lap 95 after he was tapped by Carl Edwards and spun out. But the move he made from the 17th spot with 10 laps to go that brought him to the front was pretty startling, too.

That run put him in position to take the lead with two laps left, a position he held when a caution flag came out on the final lap and froze the field for the finish. Stewart's Chevy averaged 150.021 mph.

At a post-race inspection, Stewart's car was found to be too low by a fraction of an inch, but inspectors determined that the off-course adventure damaged the underside of the car, making it too low.

Nextel Cup driver Kevin Harvick finished second and then ran to Victory Lane to congratulate Stewart, who was driving a car Harvick owns.

"There was a lot of stuff going through my head for which I can't afford the fines," said Stewart, when asked what he was thinking while on the grass. "Then I thought the re-entry to the racetrack wasn't going to be pretty. It turned out a whole lot better than I thought it would."

It was an amazing race, if a rough one. Despite bumps and bangs, drivers emerged from their cars grinning.

"Man, it was a good time," said Earnhardt Jr., who was leading until Stewart and Harvick blew by him. "Everyone drove great. I was in a good pack of cars. That's the kind of racing you want to do."

Cup drivers have voiced worries about the rough bump-drafting tactics, which see one driver ramming the rear bumper of another to create enough power to make a pass. There was plenty of that yesterday, but only rookie Reed Sorenson, who had Harvick bumping him most of the afternoon, seemed to mind.

"Kevin scared me pretty bad a couple times," said the rookie, who held on to his car to finish ninth. "He hit me pretty hard."

"I was just trying to lower your spoiler," said Harvick, laughing. Only a few days ago, Harvick had gotten into trouble bump drafting in the Duel 150 qualifying race and wrecking seven cars.

Bump me here

Cup driver Jamie McMurray said he is looking forward to bump drafting today.

"I honestly think bump drafting is the highlight of all our day because [the race] is pretty boring," said McMurray, who drives a Dodge. "It's something different and it's fun to get someone to shove you past a big group. It's fun to help somebody else. It's huge."

Somebody tell Richard

Recently, Richard Petty was asked about alcoholic beverage companies being allowed in the sport as sponsors.

"I don't think it's right," Petty said. "It goes against everything NASCAR has always stood for, families and all."

But, Petty was asked, wasn't moonshine running how the sport started? Didn't drivers learn how to handle their cars, avoiding the revenuers? Weren't some of the sport's best drivers moonshine runners?

Petty paused.

"Well," he said. "A few were."

Told of the exchange, Junior Johnson began laughing.

"Richard might not know what his daddy [Lee] did," said Johnson, whose history includes running moonshine, winning the 1960 Daytona 500 and 59 other races and six series championships as a car owner.

Who will tango?

Dodge driver Ryan Newman came in from his team's last practice for today's Daytona 500 with a smile on his face.

"It's an even playing field out there," he said. "The most important thing may be to have somebody behind you who's dedicated to push you and not be too greedy and try to win the race. I don't know [where the dedicated pusher] is coming from. I'm not going to make any plans until the race develops."

Newman, who will start ninth, can't depend on his teammate Rusty Wallace, with whom he doesn't always get along and who is also trying to win his first Daytona 500 in this, his last year, on the Nextel Cup circuit.

Jarrett hopes history helps

The last time the Daytona 500 was run on Feb. 20 was five years ago. That year, Dale Jarrett won the pole - just as he has for today's race - and then went on to win the race.

"If we have to rely on history for that to happen, that's cool," said Jarrett, whose No. 88 Ford has handling issues in traffic. "I don't care what we have to rely on."

Daytona 500

What: NASCAR Nextel Cup season opener and premier event

Where: Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, Fla.

When: Today, 1 p.m.

TV: Chs. 45, 5

Pole-sitter: Dale Jarrett

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