Dale Earnhardt won another race at Daytona International Speedway. The way it turned out, he would rather have finished second.
Earnhardt slammed the rear of Al Unser Jr.’s car near the end of the backstretch on the final lap Friday, sending the defending IndyCar PPG Cup champion spinning into the wall, then going on to win the opener of the 1995 International Race of Champions series.
The race, pitting 12 all-star drivers competing in identically prepared Dodge Avengers, was a 40-lap, 100-mile free-for-all on Daytona International Speedway’s high banks.
The race had 14 lead changes among five drivers and nearly constant position changing throughout the field.
On the final lap, with the weekday crowd of close to 50,000 on its feet anticipating a great finish, Unser zoomed low on the banking and passed Earnhardt for the lead through the first turn.
Unser’s car slid sideways across the front of Earnhardt’s, its left-side wheels momentarily lifting off the pavement. It then skidded around into the outside wall, did a 360-degree spin and hit the wall again before sliding to a halt deep in the third turn.
Earnhardt, who has 26 victories at Daytona without having won the Daytona 500, averaged 180.723 mph. He led four times for nine laps, while Unser led five times for 22.
Sunday driver prefer Chevys
Chevrolet Monte Carlos earned four of the first five starting spots in Sunday’s Daytona 500, and Darrell Waltrip said the newly designed car has pleasantly surprised his team.
“We never thought the car would qualify as fast as it did,” said Waltrip, who will start fifth. “We thought it would race well and be comfortable in traffic, but we never expected it to be as fast by itself as it is.”
Waltrip, stuck on 84 career Winston Cup victories since 1992, said the Monte Carlo and the Lumina he drove last year were aerodynamically different.
“If you put them side by side, one of them looks like a football,” he said. “The other looks like a box.”
Follow the leader
As usual, Earnhardt hopes to make other drivers play follow-the-leader Sunday.
“They know he’s going to go to the front,” Richard Childress, Earnhardt’s crew chief, said. “They know he’ll make the car go as fast as it can. Sometimes that backfires, but you want to be out front whenever you can.”
Earnhardt, who will start alongside pole-sitter Dale Jarrett in the front row, is winless in 16 tries at the Daytona 500.
“This should be Dale’s year to win,” Childress said. “I’ve thought that every year, and it hasn’t happened yet, but this should be the year.”
It’s all relative
Among the 42 drivers in the lineup are a record five sets of brothers, including three members of the Bodine family - Todd, Geoff and Brett Bodine.
The other sibling pairings are Michael and Darrell Waltrip, Ward and Jeff Burton, Rusty and Michael Wallace, and Bobby and Terry Labonte.
All were in last year’s 500, except for Michael Wallace.
No sophomore jinx here
The 1994 Winston Cup Rookie of the Year Jeff Burton expects experience to mean only modest improvement this season.
“You have to realize you still have so much to learn,” Burton, 27, said. “If you come out and - just because you’ve run 31 Winston Cup races - think you’re going to run with Earnhardt and Mark Martin week-in, week-out - it ain’t going to happen.”
Burton started 35th and finished 26th in his Daytona 500 debut last year. He’ll start 28th Sunday.
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