Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Daytona notebook

Florida Today

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - NASCAR chairman Bill France Jr. said it is likely the sport would continue racing even if the United States finds itself at war, but admitted there are certain circumstances that could affect the sport.

"It depends on how far away it is, what's the inconvenience to the spectators - can we buy fuel, for instance," France said Monday. "But I remember during World War II, President Roosevelt wanted to have baseball continue on because he thought the country needed recreation, needed to take some time to where they could get their mind off what their job was at the time.

"They advocated sports and movies and that sort of thing. Like I said, it depends on the extent of the hardships. If people can't buy gas to go where you're going to go and they can't get there, and you can't collect enough money to pay the purse, I guess you'd have to call it a day."

France discussed a wide range of topics Monday at Daytona International Speedway, including the state of the circuit, which he said is good. He also said NASCAR could have an announcement later this week about the possibility of other manufacturers like Toyota or Honda coming into the sport.

The chairman also believes something can be worked out with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, which may end its association with NASCAR when its contract runs out in 2007. The series has been called the Winston Cup since 1971.

"We'll get that worked out," France said. "They've been a great partner."


Tony Stewart's defense of his Winston Cup title got off to a horrible start Monday when he failed to finish his qualifying run after having engine trouble on the first lap. Stewart said he wasn't sure what went wrong.

"When we came around and crossed the start/finish line, it made a pop and then took off again," Stewart said. "But at the same time, after it did that, it started laying down. Coming off the backstretch there, it was about 700 revs lower than it should have been, so I knew we had a problem.

"There wasn't any point in blowing the motor up and messing up the race track and making these fans wait. They've waited long enough to see all of us qualify. I wasn't going to mess up the racetrack for everybody else. I don't know what happened to us. If that's the worst thing that happens to us, we'll be all right this year."


As Michael Waltrip was talking with the media Monday, somebody was quick to point out that he was wearing sneakers that were sporting the colors of the University of Kentucky.

"I'm enjoying watching the 'Cats play," said Waltrip, a native of Owensboro, Ky. "I don't want anybody to think that's Carolina blue. That's Kentucky blue. I've just been running a lot, working out. These are my workout shoes. I don't know why I got 'em on right now. These aren't my workout pants."

He was wearing blue jeans.


Bill Elliott will be making his 25th Daytona 500 start Sunday. And while he still holds the track-qualifying record of 42.783 seconds at 186.606 mph, he was a little slower Monday.

His time of 48.797, or 184.438 mph, was good enough for 12th.

"This track has been really good to me," Elliott said. "I've enjoyed this place over the years. It's had its ups and downs. Every time I come back, it 's the same Daytona. A lot of guys get a little racy on Sunday, but you've still got to finish. I think that's going to be one key element to the Daytona 500 on Sunday afternoon."

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Tuesday's sports on TV, radio