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Schrader overcomes injury to finish 4th

All anyone wanted Ken Schrader to do was stay out of trouble. He had bigger ideas, like winning the Daytona 500.

Less than 72 hours after fracturing his sternum in a crash, Schrader started 36th in Sunday's race, charged quickly into contention and stayed there the rest of the day before finishing fourth.Outfitted with a flak jacket, a hard plastic shell on top of it and an electric impulse kit to help control the pain, Schrader matched his best finish on the Winston Cup circuit since 1996.

"I know everybody thought we were crazy," he said, "but we thought we had a shot to win the thing."

Car owner Andy Petree was visibly moved by Schrader's stirring bid to break a winless drought that has spanned 203 races, dating to June 1991.

"He and I are real close," Petree said as he gulped hard, shook his head and rubbed his eyes. "This is probably going to make us closer."

Schrader was injured Thursday when he slammed into a concrete retaining wall during the Twin 125s.

"I really didn't think he should be driving the car at all," Petree said. "To make that charge and a run like that, I can't put into words what it means to me."

Petree said the trick now is to capitalize on the momentum generated by the start to his second season with Schrader.

"This is awesome," he said. "We're putting the fullcourt press on now."

STRUGGLES: The 1998 Daytona 500 wasn't kind to Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin, two of the most successful drivers in the 1997 event.

Gordon, bidding for his second consecutive 500 victory, led twice for 56 laps Sunday and was in the lead pack battling for the victory when he slowed suddenly with two laps remaining.

Battling what was later diagnosed as a dropped cylinder, Gordon fell almost to the back of the lead lap and wound up 16th in the 43-car field.

Martin, who led the most laps in last year's race before fading to a seventh-place finish, didn't lead at all this time. He had to go to the garage early with a gear problem and wound up 38th.

SCAVENGERS: Never let it be said that NASCAR's fans don't have initiative.

Right after the race ended, winner Dale Earnhardt drove onto the infield grass along the front stretch and created the numeral "3" - his car number - by spinning a pair of half-doughnuts in his Chevrolet Monte Carlo.

Within minutes, fans descended on the area and began tearing up the doughnuts. Some even used their beer coolers to haul off the souvenir turf.

Earnhardt, sitting up in the press box high above the start-finish line as he conducted his post-race interview, looked down at the industrious fans and waved.

"That's pretty cool, huh?" he said.

CALM DOWN: Rough driving was the main topic discussed in the mandatory drivers' meeting held by NASCAR officials Sunday morning.

With rain predicted to hamper the race, NASCAR race director David Hoots appealed to the drivers to try to prevent wrecks and the delays they produce. The drivers had to run at least 101 laps - one lap past halfway - to make the event official.

The first of the race's three caution flags didn't fly until lap 126, and it never did rain.

DARRELL'S TRIUMPH: Darrell Waltrip, who started last, was never competitive and wound up 33rd. He fell behind immediately, was about 100 yards behind the rest of the field after one circuit and eventually became the first driver to get lapped.

From then on, Waltrip tried to find solace in any possible small victory. Just past the midway point of the race, he experienced one such triumph and got on the radio to share it with his crew.

"Holy cow!" Waltrip yelled. "I just passed somebody! Yee haw!"

STREAKS: Earnhardt's first victory in 20 Daytona 500s extended the lengthy droughts of two other drivers. Terry Labonte is winless in 20 Daytona 500s, and Rusty Wallace is 0-for-16.

THE FINAL WORD: Earnhardt's official winnings amounted to a record total of $1,059,105. Earnhardt shook his head when he saw the figure.

"What's the $5 for?" he wondered.