Crash Day Afternoon at Daytona

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Author: Gary Long
Date: Feb. 12, 2002
Publisher: Tribune Content Agency
Document Type: Article
Length: 665 words

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DAYTONA BEACH _ The only way to learn how a car handles in high-speed traffic is to practice in high-speed traffic.

That's how Bobby Hamilton, Jeff Burton and five other Winston Cup veterans got caught up in a crash Tuesday during preparations for Thursday's two Gatorade 125-mile qualifying sprints and Sunday's 44th Daytona 500.

A bobble by Brett Bodine's Ford triggered the chain-reaction accident that severely battered Hamilton's Chevrolet but spared Hamilton.

Todd Bodine, Burton and Hamilton all climbed from cars unaided and visited the infield medical center for precautionary examinations.

"I think Brett Todd's brother got tight or loose or something and bumped the fence," said Hamilton, winner of the Talladega 500 last April and a threat to win here in Andy Petree's Chevrolet.

"I rubbed him a little bit as he attempted to clear Bodine's car on the left and it broke my momentum and then the No. 99 Burton hit me, or the No. 20 Tony Stewart."

That tap apparently turned Hamilton's car down in front of Todd Bodine's. Both will have to use backup cars in the Gatorade dashes that help form the 43-car Daytona 500 lineup from the second row on back.

Burton, whose 17 career Winston Cup victories include the 2000 Pepsi 400 on Daytona's 2.5-mile trioval, also spun without wall contact after a bumper-tap earlier in the two-hour practice. "It's been a long day," he said.

"The only way to find out what your cars will do, and how you're running, is to get in big packs," Burton said. "And any time we get in big packs, anything at all can happen."

Once Brett Bodine and Hamilton made contact, Burton added, "Everybody was just trying to miss the wreck."

Stewart, Ricky Rudd and Jimmy Spencer all got just minor pieces of the action. "It's getting later and later in the week," Spencer said of building tension. "Them rattlesnakes are coming out."

Tuesday's practice was the first since NASCAR officials allowed Ford teams to reduce the height of metal spoilers across the cars' rear decklid in an attempt to balance the competition.

Mark Martin posted the fastest practice lap in his Ford at 187.758 mph, but the real impact of the adjustment favoring the Fords won't become evident until Thursday's races. Dale Jarrett's sixth-place finish was the best by a Ford driver in the 70-lap Bud Shootout won by Stewart in a Pontiac on Sunday.

MUSGRAVE TAKES POLE

Ted Musgrave, a Winston Cup veteran who won seven Craftsman Truck Series events in 2001, said the Jim Smith-owned Ultra Motorsports team "never broke stride" over the offseason.

Apparently not.

Musgrave, who broke a long personal winless streak when he won at Homestead-Miami Speedway last March 4, blistered Daytona's trioval with a lap of 187.215 mph in his Dodge Ram Tuesday to win the pole for the Florida Dodge Dealers 250.

His lap substantially eclipsed the 185.778 clocking by two-time Craftsman champion Ron Hornaday Jr., who will share the front row when 36 pickups take the green flag at 1 p.m. Friday.

"We did a lot of things to free the truck up," Musgrave said. "You definitely wouldn't be able to race it like that. It's a handful right now, but that was just a one-lap effort."

Musgrave finished second to three-time Craftsman champion Jack Sprague for the 2001 title. Sprague has switched to NASCAR's Busch Grand National series. Hornaday Jr. is at the wheel of the Rick Hendrick-owned Chevrolet pickup that Sprague drove.

Musgrave credited new teammate Jason Leffler with an assist. Leffler, who ran in Winston Cup last year, qualified fifth-fastest at 185.193. "He came back and told me I needed to get a little more temperature in the motor than he had," Musgrave said.

___

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A82792884