clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Combination must be right to capture Daytona 500

Just the right combination of car, motor and luck is needed to win the Daytona 500. Oh yeah, the driver plays a part, too.

Sterling Marlin and Dale Jarrett each has put it all together twice in recent years, while former series champions Dale Earnhardt, Terry Labonte and Rusty Wallace never have."It's tough to win this race," said Derrike Cope, who won the 1990 race when Earnhardt cut down a tire while leading on the last lap.

"So much depends on being in the right place at the right time, having somebody else do something that aids you," added Cope, who will start 11th on Sunday in the 43-car lineup for the 40th Daytona 500.

Daytona International Speedway is one of the two Winston Cup tracks where NASCAR requires a carburetor restrictor plate to slow the cars down in the interest of driver and fan safety.

The biggest problem with the plates is that throttle response time is also slowed. So, not only are the cars running closer together because they are so equal in power, but they often don't have quick enough response to drive away from trouble.

"Typically, the guy leading the race, if he's super-fast and can block, will win it," Cope said. "It's difficult to say who will do that, but by the looks of what happens here, the guy that can run on the bottom, flat out, and can dictate his own positioning is going to be the guy that has the greatest chance to win."

That was certainly true on Thursday in the two 125-mile qualifying races as the Chevrolets of Earnhardt and Marlin were able to stick to the low side of the 21/2-mile, high-banked oval and win with seeming ease.

Those victories gave Earnhardt and Marlin second-row starting positions for Sunday, behind front-row starters Bobby and Terry La-bonte. But, that is only a little edge in a 200-lap race.

"You're going to have to have some breaks," said Dale Inman, team manager for the Petty Enterprises Pontiac driven by John Andretti. "Usually, you need one to win a race . . . For this race, maybe a dozen.

"Earnhardt's won nine consecutive qualifying races down here and never a 500," Inman said. "We won the race (with Richard Petty driving) down here in '79 and took the white flag (indicating the last lap) 16 or 17 seconds behind. We were in third place and won the race. It's kind of not over until it's over."

IROC Series

Rain gave Jeff Gordon a victory on Friday and ruined what was shaping up to be a typically wild finish to the opening round of the 1998 International Race of Champions Series.

Gordon, the defending NASCAR Winston Cup champion, was the seventh driver to lead the 12-car race, which was shortened by 10 laps from its scheduled 40-lap, 100-mile distance.

It's the first rain-shortened event in the 22-year history of the all-star series.

Gordon was at the front of a tight 10-car draft when the rain ended the race.