Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Daytona crash wrecks plans

Trio forced into backup cars for Thurs. qualifying

The Associated Press

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Jeff Burton, Elliott Sadler and Mike Skinner will switch to backup cars in qualifying for Sunday's Daytona 500 after a crash Tuesday.

The five-car incident came on the front straightaway of the 21/2-mile oval with about four minutes left in the 60-minute practice.

Rookie Jack Sprague, a three-time NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion, was riding in the middle of a three-wide pack, with Steve Park above him on the banked Daytona International Speedway track and Skinner on the low side. Sprague's Pontiac appeared to slide up the track, bumping Park and then sliding down into Skinner, who went sideways.

Burton and Sadler then drove into the melee.

There were no injuries, but Skinner's Pontiac and the Fords of Burton and Sadler were put out of action for the rest of this week. Those drivers must get their preparations for Thursday's twin 125-mile qualifying races done in the 45-minute Winston Cup practice today.

It was the second year in a row that Burton and Sadler have been in wrecks that put them in backup cars for the season-opening race.

"I'm tired of wrecking in practice," Burton said.

Other drivers put most of the blame on Sprague, who is trying to qualify for his first Daytona 500.

"To the best of my knowledge, we got ran into by a rookie," Skinner said. "Whether he got pushed down there or not, I don't know."

GORDON FAVORED: NASCAR unveiled its inaugural preseason poll, with a panel of motorsports media voting Jeff Gordon, a four-time champion, as the No.1 contender for the Winston Cup title. Gordon, had 17 first-place votes to beat defending champ Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman, who were No.1 on seven ballots apiece.

BUSCH SERIES PRACTICE: Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr., Winston Cup teammates for Dale Earnhardt Inc., topped the Busch Series speed charts in the afternoon practice session. Waltrip, driving a Chevrolet he owns, ran a lap of 183.775 mph, slightly better than Earnhardt's speed of 183.572. Earnhardt's half-brother, Kerry Earnhardt, ran the quickest time in the morning at 183.921.

TOYOTA IN NASCAR? NASCAR chairman Bill France Jr. said he expects an announcement "probably by the end of the week" about the involvement of a new manufacturer in one of its three top series. Toyota, which already is competing in NASCAR's Dash Series, has acknowledged it is working on a truck engine. NASCAR's rules prohibit foreign cars, but it is expected that the Japanese company, which builds cars in the U.S., will make its entry into the truck series official before Sunday's 500.

ETC: Car owner Ray Evernham was subpoenaed in Gordon's divorce case Tuesday, accepting the papers from a sheriff's deputy outside Daytona International Speedway. Brooke Gordon's lawyers want to look at the contracts NASCAR car owners have with their drivers and sponsors to determine what Gordon is worth as a car owner.

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