Earnhardt, Hamlin win qualifying racesDAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — On a milestone day for Toyota, NASCAR’s newest manufacturer,
By: By REID SPENCER/Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service, The Daily Telegram
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — On a milestone day for Toyota, NASCAR’s newest manufacturer, veteran drivers stole the show Thursday at Daytona International Speedway.
With a push from Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin won the second Gatorade Duel 150 qualifying race for Sunday’s Daytona 500 in a green-white-checkered-flag finish that took the event four laps beyond its posted distance. The victory for Toyota was the second for a foreign manufacturer in NASCAR’s top series. Jaguar driver Al Keller won a road course race in Linden, N.J., in 1954.
In the first Duel 150, Dale Earnhardt Jr. passed Ryan Newman for the lead on Lap 51 of 60 and held on for the win — his second in two races for Hendrick Motorsports.
But the story of Thursday was the success of three veteran drivers — Dale Jarrett, Kenny Wallace and John Andretti — who persevered to make the field.
Racing at Daytona for the final time, Jarrett made the 500 field by finishing ninth — the best among the go or go-home cars.
Wallace joined Furniture Row Racing teammate Joe Nemechek in the field for Sunday’s race with an eighth-place finish in the first Duel — the highest among those who had to race their way into the field. (Brian Vickers survived a spin in Turn 2 on Lap 3 to finish 11th and claim the other transfer position into the 50th running of the Great American Race, as nine of 11 Toyota drivers made the field.)
After a late pit stop for tires, Andretti powered past David Reutimann, who was already in the race on time-trial speed, on the final lap of the second Duel to finish 10th and claim the final transfer position into the 500. That knocked Boris Said out of the race; had Reutimann finished ahead of Andretti, Said would have made the 500 on the speed he posted during last Sunday’s qualifying session.
Earnhardt’s third victory in a Daytona qualifying race set up a possible triple in the 500, and Earnhardt thinks he should be among the favorites, though not necessarily THE favorite.
“I feel like we’ve got a shot, you know what I mean,” Earnhardt said. “Nobody’s boastful enough, I don’t think, personality-wise to come in here and claim that (he should be considered the favorite). I wouldn’t expect anybody to do that.
“But I thought we’ve got a great shot. We’ve won some races down here, so we’ve got to be in the group, if there’s a group of them.”
Reed Sorenson finished second to Earnhardt in a green-white-checkered-flag restart after Elliott Sadler blew a tire and scraped the wall to bring out the second caution of the first race on Lap 55.
Newman ran third, followed by Casey Mears and Carl Edwards in the race to determine the starting positions on the inside row for the 500.
Stewart ran second in Duel No. 2, followed by Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne and Mark Martin.
On Lap 10 of the first race, Kurt Busch answered the question of who would use the past champion’s provisional to make the Daytona 500 field. Busch slowed as his car approached Turn 1, and by the time he reached Turn 4, an electrical fire had filled his cockpit with smoke.
“It’s too early to diagnose the problem,” said Busch, who gave up the owner points on his No. 2 Dodge to guarantee rookie teammate Sam Hornish Jr. starting spots in the first five races of 2008. “I think we might have had something electrical underneath the dash, because there’s a bunch of wires burned up.”
As the most recent past champion without a guaranteed spot, Busch forced Jarrett to race his way into the 500 field.
On Lap 15 of the second Duel, Jacques Villeneuve lost control of his Toyota in Turn 4 and triggered a wreck that also wiped out Jamie McMurray, Dario Franchitti and go or go-home driver Stanton Barrett.
Neither Villeneuve nor Barrett will race Sunday. Neither will rookie Patrick Carpentier, whose Gillett Evernham Dodge hit the wall at the exit of Turn 2 to bring out the third caution of the second race on Lap 58. That set up the second green-white-checkered finish of the afternoon.
NOTE: Ten cars, including all four Hendrick Chevrolets, changed engines Wednesday after problems with valve lifters surfaced.
Seven of those cars, including three of the Hendrick machines, were in the first Duel. Engine problems were not an issue during the first race; in the second Duel, only Dave Blaney’s Toyota suffered a motor malady.