Dale Earnhardt continued his habit of winning qualifying races at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday, and, in doing so, once again raised the specter of the one thing he has never done here - win the Daytona 500.
Thursday, in 80-degree temperatures, Earnhardt held off a late-race challenge from Jeff Gordon to win the second of two 125-mile qualifying races. The combined results of the races determine how the field for Sunday’s Daytona 500 will be filled out.
The win was a record 10th in Daytona 500 qualifiers for Earnhardt, including a record eight in a row. The win gave Earnhardt 24 career wins in various races at Daytona International Speedway, yet he remains 0-19 in the Daytona 500, the sport’s premier event.
“I guess it’s a good omen for eight championships,” Earnhardt said, underlining his season-long quest to break his tie with Richard Petty of seven Winston Cup championships. “Our confidence level is pretty good right now.”
Earnhardt, who started in fifth, took the lead on the 19th lap and held it the rest of the way.
“It’s a race I have fun with,” Earnhardt said. “It’s an important race. It’s history. It’s a streak that I don’t know if anyone else can match.”
Spokane’s Chad Little was 19th in the second race and didn’t qualify for Sunday’s race.
The first 50-lap qualifying race was won by Dale Jarrett, the defending and two-time Daytona champ. “This may be one of the best 500s ever,” he said. “If I win, it will be the best ever.”
Mike Skinner and Steve Grissom, who had the two fastest times in qualifying, will start on the front row of Sunday’s race. Because of their wins Thursday, Jarrett will start third and Earnhardt fourth.
“Once Dale got out front, there was nothing we could do with him,” said Gordon.
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