Earn­hardt Jr. wins first of two qual­i­fy­ing races

Wal­lace and Vick­ers both ad­vance to Day­tona 500

The Covington News - - Sports - By Jenna Fryer

DAY­TONA BEACH, Fla. — Dale Earn­hardt Jr. is 2-for-2 in his Hendrick Mo­tor­sports de­but, win­ning one of Thurs­day’s qual­i­fy­ing races and es­tab­lish­ing him­self as the fa­vorite to win the Day­tona 500.

Earn­hardt led 26 of the 60 laps to score his sec­ond win of Speed­weeks, prov­ingNASCAR’s most pop­u­lar driver is a per­fect fit with the sport’s most dom­i­nant team. Earn­hardt, who also won the ex­hi­bi­tion Bud­weiser Shootout five days ago, was out front for much of the race but still needed a late pass of Ryan New­man to se­cure the win.

“I didn’t think I had (New­man) cleared, I don’t know if he lifted to let me have it ‘cause I might have wrecked the deal there,” Earn­hardt said. “I come on in front of him, but it must have been inches. He had to lift a lit­tle bit, but he got a run on the inside of me there. That was pretty fun.”

Earn­hardt, the 2004 Day­tona 500 win­ner, will start on the sec­ond row of Sun­day’s sea­sonopener. He’ll be search­ing for his first points vic­tory in nearly two years.

“It’s a Cin­derella story,” said Ken­nyWal­lace, one of two driv­ers to race their way into the 500 in the first qual­i­fier. “It looks like he’s go­ing to sweep Speed­weeks if he doesn’t break.”

The first qual­i­fy­ing race was a show­down be­tween Red Bull Rac­ing team­mates Brian Vick­ers and AJ All­mendinger, who both raced their way into the 500 field. Vick­ers made it in with a last-lap pass of Joe Ne­mechek to fin­ish 11th, se­cur­ing his spot.

It was a come­back for Vick­ers, who was spun by Boris Said three laps into the race and had to make an un­sched­uled pit stop for a flat tire. Vick­ers, a one-time star at Hendrick Mo­tor­sports, strug­gled hor­ri­bly through his first sea­son with Red Bull when the team strug­gled to make races.

“Oh, it’s like I won the race,” Vick­ers said. “I think the last time I felt this good was when I won a race (at Tal­ladega in 2006). I mean, the 50th run­ning of the Day­tona 500 is spe­cial, but just to start the year off right.”

All­mendinger failed to make the 500, fin­ish­ing 13th in the qual­i­fier. He too strug­gled to make races last sea­son and was dis­ap­pointed in not be­ing able to put both Red Bull cars in the field.

Kenny Wal­lace earned the other spot that was up for grabs in the first qual­i­fier, fin­ish­ing eighth. Ne­mechek, his team­mate at fledg­ling Furniture Row Rac­ing, also earned a spot in the field as one of the fastest cars in time tri­als not al­ready qual­i­fied for the 500.

Kurt Busch lost power in his Dodge about 10 laps into the race, and the fail­ure had a huge ef­fect on sev­eral driv­ers. Be­cause the 2004 se­ries cham­pion gave his points earned from last sea­son to new team­mate Sam Hor­nish Jr. — a move that en­sures Hor­nish a spot in the first five races of the sea­son, Busch will make the Day­tona 500 un­der the past cham­pion’s pro­vi­sional.

“We got some burned-up wires un­der the dash, so that’s not good,” Busch said. “We’ve got the cham­pion’s pro­vi­sional to fall back on, and so we’re not too wor­ried about it.”

But it cre­ated a huge worry for three-time Day­tona 500 win­ner Dale Jar­rett, who had hoped the pro­vi­sional still would be avail­able for him just in case he failed to race his way into the field in the sec­ond qual­i­fy­ing race. Jar­rett is re­tir­ing next month and could con­ceiv­ably miss his fi­nal 500.

The pro­vi­sional goes to the most re­cent for­mer cham­pion, and the or­der for award­ing it is Busch, Jar­rett and Bill El­liott.

Reed Soren­son fol­lowed a strong run in the Shootout with a sec­ond-place fin­ish in the first qual­i­fier, and was fol­lowed by Ryan New­man, Casey Mears and Carl Ed­wards.

But the race once again be­longed to Earn­hardt, who had to drive from the back of the field to win his race.

A rash of bad lifters in mo­tors made by both Hendrick and sev­eral Toy­ota teams forced a flurry of en­gine changes Wed­nes­day, and all the teams that made switches had to drop to the back of the field. That in­cluded Earn­hardt and all three of his Hendrick team­mates.

But it made no dif­fer­ence to Earn­hardt, who scored his 12th vic­tory in var­i­ous se­ries at Day­tona.

“I’m real proud of my team, they built me a great car,” Earn­hardt said. “The en­gine guys worked overnight to bring us the re­place­ment mo­tors down here. They’re great, as we see.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.