Dale Jarrett and Dale Earnhardt need to handle a few minor details before the two race favorites collide in the Daytona 500 on Sunday.
Jarrett, winner of the 1993 Daytona 500, won the pole for this year’s race with a lap of 193.494 mph. Earnhardt took the outside front at 193.449.
The opening round of qualifying Saturday was the last time they met on the track. For today’s Twin 125-mile qualifying races, they’ll be kept apart, so they don’t go at each other again until Sunday.
Jarrett will start from the pole in the first of Thursday’s 50-lap sprints, while Earnhardt gets the top starting spot in the nightcap. Both are assured their Sunday starting spots, so their chore in the sometimes wild and woolly Twins is simply to stay out of trouble and get ready for the big event.
“Things have been going pretty well since we’ve been here,” said Earnhardt, the seven-time Winston Cup champion who already won the Busch Clash this week on Daytona International Speedway’s 2-1/2-mile, high-banked oval.
“I’m locked in for the 500, so we don’t have to worry about what happens in the 125,” he added. “You want to stay out of trouble, and the best way to do that is to stay in front. That’ll be tough because there’s a lot of good cars in our race.”
Rookie Robert Pressley, taking the seat of retired Harry Gant, will be next to Earnhardt at the start, with an all-star cast, including Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Bill Elliott, Ricky Rudd and Ted Musgrave, all scattered behind them throughout the 32-car field.
Jarrett’s challenge will come from the likes of defending Daytona winner Sterling Marlin, who will start from the outside of the front row in the opener, as well as Terry Labonte, Michael and Darrell Waltrip, Kyle Petty, Rusty Wallace and Ken Schrader, all lurking back in the pack of another 32-car lineup.
For Jarrett and Earnhardt, this will be, as Earnhardt says, “a 125-mile practice.” For everybody else, it’s the only way to get a decent starting spot in Sunday’s 42-car lineup.
The top 14 finishers in each of the Twins, excluding the two pole starters, will fill positions 3-30 for the big race. The next eight positions will be taken by the fastest remaining drivers from three days of time trials that set Thursday’s lineups.
Positions 39-42 will go to any remaining teams from last year’s top-40 car-owner standings. The possibility of a 43rd starter exists, but only in the unlikely event a former series champion does not make the lineup any other way.
Commentary by Petty
Richard Petty, the longtime king of stock car racing, will again be in the TV booth Sunday, helping CBS Sports cover the Daytona 500, a race he won a record seven times.
Petty, a team owner on the Winston Cup circuit, will be an analyst on the broadcast, the same role the seven-time Winston Cup champion held last year. Ken Squier, two-time stock car champion Ned Jarrett, David Hobbs and Mike Joy round out the broadcast team.
Monte Carlo man
Three-time Winston Cup champion Darrell Waltrip has not won since the Southern 500 in September 1992. But the desire to win is no less strong just because he’s 48.
The introduction of the new Chevrolet Monte Carlo has added another dimension for Waltrip, who was the top winner on the Winston Cup circuit in the Monte Carlo model that was retired in 1989.
Waltrip, who will begin his 24th season on NASCAR’s top circuit in the Daytona 500, said, “Daytona is an exciting time. It’s the start of a new year. We’ve got a new car and I feel like a 16-year-old with a new car.”