Hamilton 16Th But Wallace 41St

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Schneider Electric driver Bobby Hamilton is the master at avoiding wrecks, after dodging the “big one” at Daytona International Speedway to bring his No. 55 Chevrolet home in 16th position. Hamilton left the race track with a big sigh of relief that the Pepsi 400 was over and his car was still in one piece.

Hamilton’s Andy Petree Racing teammate Mike Wallace wasn’t so lucky. He was hit from behind by Steve Park on Lap 17 and slapped the outside wall. The No. 33 1-800-CALL-ATT Chevrolet was repaired, but Wallace finished 41st after completing 83 laps.

“It appears there was a yellow car from behind that hit us in the right rear, and I got turned around,” Wallace said. “Unfortunately, you can’t run into cars on the straightaways. We’re just all racing and running that hard, and we were up on the outside and just got hit in the right-rear, turned into the wall and turned around.

“Fortunately, nobody else was involved in it, but it’s a shame for the 800-CALL-ATT car because we had a good race car. Unfortunately, somebody was a little more rambunctious than we were.”

Hamilton raced in the Top 15 throughout the 160 laps, climbing all the way to second during one stint. The nose on his Chevy had been knocked in twice, once on Lap 9 when Johnny Benson spun and again when the “big one” happened on Lap 136. The Schneider Electric pit crew did a great job fixing the front end both times, allowing Hamilton to stay on the lead lap.

On Lap 59 Kenny Wallace spun and brought out the fifth caution of the evening. Hamilton was sitting in the sixth position and came in for four tires and fuel. After the stop he went back out in the Top 10, where he held his position for several laps. The race went smoothly until teams were forced to pit under green-flag conditions. Hamilton pitted on Lap 116 and came out 19th. The cars were staggered on the race track and separated from the leaders. The big break happened for the separated pack on Lap 125 when Tony Stewart spun for the second time of the day.

Crew chief Jimmy Elledge chose to stay out during the caution, kicking Hamilton back up into the Top 15. During the caution laps, Hamilton radioed his car was running good, but he needed a lot of help from a pusher behind him. On Lap 136 the “big one” knocked out eight cars in front of Hamilton as he maneuvered around the chaos, escaping with only minor damage to the Chevy. The pit crew brought Hamilton in during the caution, knocked the front end of the nose back out, added four tires, fuel and sent him back out in 14th position.

The eighth caution came out on lap 150 for debris. Hamilton radioed he thought he had run over something, so the team changed all four tires and added more fuel on Lap 152. Hamilton went on to pick up one spot to 16th and avoid the final wreck, which happened with three laps to go. The wreck collected two cars running in the Top 10 and ended the race under caution. The fans at Daytona did not agree with the caution-flag ending and retaliated by throwing their cushions on the back straightaway.

“Man, these are some people you don’t want to make mad,” Hamilton said as he ran to his car trying to avoid traffic. “We had a great race. Jimmy and these guys put a good car together for me here. We ran up front all day, but I just had to watch what was going on in front of me. I couldn’t do it by myself, but when someone would get behind me I could take off. I’m just glad we missed all the commotion going on out there.”

Michael Waltrip won his second race in Daytona. Rusty Wallace, Sterling Marlin, Jimmy Spencer and Mark Martin followed in the Top 5.

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