Call it a passing fancy.
The uproar that began with Sunday’s boring Busch Clash could become even louder if today’s Twin 125-mile qualifying races for the Daytona 500 don’t produce some wheel-to-wheel racing and, more important, some passing.
The Clash, a made-for-TV event that matches the previous year’s Winston Cup pole winners in a 20-lap race, was practically sleep-inducing.
Dale Earnhardt, a six-time Clash winner who usually loves the event, grumbled, “You couldn’t pull up, pull out or do nothing.”
That would be very bad news for the drivers who need desperately to finish toward the front today in one of the two races that will determine positions 3-30 in Sunday’s 500-miler.
The first two positions went to rookie Mike Skinner and fellow longshot Steve Grissom, who were the fastest qualifiers Saturday in the first of two rounds of time trials. Fourteen drivers, excluding Skinner and Grissom, each of whom will start from a pole in the Twin 125s, will earn starting spots in each race.
The next eight positions will go to the fastest drivers remaining from the time trials, with four more spots available to provisional starters based on last year’s car-owner points. Finally, a 43rd starting position is available for a former Winston Cup champion, if needed.
Spokane’s Chad Little will start from the 14th spot in the second race.
For drivers who qualified poorly or are with new teams that have no car-owner points, the 125s will be their only route into the $4.2 million Daytona 500, NASCAR’s most prestigious event.
It’s important that those near the rear of the fields - 26 cars in the first race and 26 in the second event - are able to move toward the front if they have the power and ability.
“I think everybody just cried wolf way too fast,” said Rusty Wallace, who really has no worry after finishing sixth in the 1996 season points and turning the fourth fastest lap in qualifying.
“There is no problem with the draft. “In the Busch Clash, when you’re single file, you don’t see much of that,” he added. “We’re not going to have a problem.”
Dale Jarrett, the two-time and defending Daytona 500 winner, said, “Everything seems to be all right, but you can’t tell in these practices. You’ve got to get into a race condition and see what happens then.”
Jarrett, third in last year’s points and third in qualifying, doesn’t have to worry about making the race, but Larry Pearson is one of the drivers who must do well today to advance.
Pearson, who was 43rd in qualifying and is driving for Bud Moore, who was 28th in the car-owner points, said, “It’s very nerve-wracking for me. If I had run faster in qualifying, I wouldn’t be worried about it so much. But to get into the 500 I’ve got to finish in the top 15 (in my race).”
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