Idaytona Notebook:/I Fast Fords

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DAYTONA BEACH. Fla. – Geoffrey Bodine led a Ford assault on Monday’s practice session, as four of the five fastest drivers were in Fords – despite not being able to use the smaller spoiler. NASCAR announced Sunday that the Taurus rear spoiler will be lowered a quarter-inch to 6 inches in height, but Ford teams can’t use them until Tuesday.

Still, Bodine went 188.379 mph in the draft to post the quickest speed, with Dave Blaney second fastest at 188.304, followed by Ricky Rudd at 188.111. Fourth was the Dodge of Sterling Marlin, with Jeff Burton’s Ford fifth.

Ford Taurus drivers took five of the first eight spots in Monday’s practice, all using the taller spoiler.

Which begs the question: Were the other makes sandbagging on Monday, in rebellion to NASCAR’s concession to the Fords made in the announcement Sunday night?

“The Fords and Dodges are very similar cars with very similar numbers in the wind tunnel,” Dodge’s Bob Wildberger said. “When we started coming down here, most of the cars had a 6.5-inch high spoiler. If they’re going down to 6 inches, great. Let’s take the Dodge down with everybody else. It’s kind of interesting too, and it’s just an observation, but four of the five fastest cars in practice this morning were Fords. The last rule change that helped them out has not gone into affect yet.”

Bodine doesn’t have any owner points to rely on for a provisional and is just trying to hold on and qualify for the Daytona 500 in James Finch’s No. 09 Ford. He was 29th fastest in qualifying on Saturday afternoon.

Ford teams get to try out the new spoiler configuration for the first time Tuesday in a one-hour, 45-minute practice.

Some in Trouble
Second-round Winston Cup qualifying on Monday afternoon yielded no surprises, as only four drivers attempted to re-qualify. Mike Skinner didn't do himself any favors, as the driver of the No. 4 Kodak Chevy turned a lap of 181.785 mph, 40th fastest out of 53 cars.

Kyle Petty, who blew an engine during first-round qualifying, turned a lap of 183.061 mph, the 27th fastest speed in the field, which could be good enough to get him into Sunday's race. Kirk Shelmerdine and Norm Benning both have a lot of work to do and will have to qualify for the race in the Twin 125s on Thursday. Shelmerdine turned a lap of 178.246 mph Monday, while Benning's lap was 168.429 mph.

The Top 14 drivers from each Twin 125-mile race, minus the two top qualifiers from Saturday (Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick), will make the Daytona 500 field.

Gordon Gets Driver of the Year Award
Jeff Gordon received the Driver of the Year award Monday afternoon, the fourth time he’s received that honor. That breaks a tie with Darrell Waltrip and Mario Andretti for the must Driver of the Year titles.

“I can’t tell you what an honor this is,” Gordon said. “To see my name on that (trophy) four times absolutely blows me away. I’m very pleased to accept it, but I don’t know how I can as a driver. In Motorsports, anybody will tell you, you’re dealing with a machine. The machine has to be tuned right, the machine has to be set up right, and the team behind that mnachine is what makes a driver shine.

“I’ve never been one to step away and say, ‘I’m the one who makes it all happen.’ I know how important it is to have the whole package. … For the panel to recognize me, they’re recognizing this team and their efforts, it means a whole lot.”

The award has been given since 1967, when Andretti won his first. A panel of Motorsports journalists votes on the winner, who can come from any American racing series.

Other past winners include John Force, Dale Earnhardt, A.J. Foyt, Richard Petty and Mark Donahue.

“These kids; no record is sacred anymore,” Waltrip said. “They look at the record book and say, ‘I can beat that,’ and they go out and do it.

“No surprise. This old guy, 30 years old, four-time champion, four-time Driver of the Year. How many times more, Lord only knows.”

Gordon will receive a specially built Indian Chief motorcycle, which is being built in California. He’ll receive it at Talladega in April to match one he won in 1998.

“I’m going to ride this one,” Gordon said. “I didn’t ride the last one, mainly because I don’t know how.”

Spencer Unveils Anti-Drug Campaign
Jimmy Spencer joined the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign on Monday, getting involved with the program after his son, Jimmy, had a friend who tried marijuana.

The campaign is organized by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, with the message “What’s Your Anti-Drug?” The slogan introduced Monday was “Racing: My Anti-Drug.”

“One of my son’s friends, I caught him with some marijuana,” Spencer said. “I went and talked to his parents. She was shocked, she was shocked. Jimmy and I talked about it. He said, ‘Do I have to quit playing with him?’ I said, ‘No. let’s try to help him.’ ”

Spencer contacted the government to get involved with the program. Both his children, Jimmy and Katrina, are teen-agers, a difficult era in this age.

“They don’t do drugs, and they’re proud to say that,” Spencer said.

One of Spencer’s messages will be for parents to communicate with their kids.

“One of the things I want to do more than anything this year is to get across to parents: take your kids, go to the movies with them one time,” Spencer said. “You don’t have to take your wife with you. Just you and your son, you and your daughter. It’s fun. It’s fun to take them to school, it’s fun to ask them about what his girlfriends are doing, it’s fun to talk to them, it’s fun to ask personal questions.

“We’re lacking that in society. Not all of us, and I’m not the perfect example, but I’m trying real hard. I’m proud to say my wife and I don’t do drugs, and we didn’t do drugs growing up.”

Spencer said NASCAR does random drug tests, and while he didn’t say who, Spencer did say some NASCAR members were kicked out of the sport.

“Their tolerance on drugs is zero,” Spencer said. “They don’t put up with any of it. They kick you the hell out.”

Ultra is Ultra Fast
Ted Musgrave and Scott Riggs made for a great on-track combination for Ultra Motorsports last season in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Between the two drivers, Ultra reeled in 12 victories.

Early indications from Daytona International Speedway are that Musgrave and his new teammate, Jason Leffler, haven't skipped a beat.

Leffler, in his first season in the CTS after running for rookie-of-the-year honors in Winston Cup last year, had the fastest truck during the morning practice session, posting a quick speed of 184.128 mph.

Musgrave, who won a whopping seven races a year ago in CTS competition, was second at 184.011 mph. Mike Bliss was third fastest, followed by Lance Norick and Mike Wallace, a former driver of Leffler's No. 2 Team ASE Dodge.

The second CTS practice in the afternoon had Musgrave and Leffler flip-flopped. Musgrave was fastest at 185.674 mph, while Leffler was second at 185.029 mph.

Don’t Give a Damn About My Reputation
To some, Tony Stewart is the bad boy of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. He’s J.R. Ewing, Darth Vader and the Penguin rolled into one.

Stewart’s intensity has gotten him into trouble on more than one occasion in his career, and he’s butted heads with officials and drivers alike.

But Stewart doesn’t like the bad-boy role, doesn’t think he’s a villain.

“I’m a pretty happy-go-lucky guy away from the race car, even at the race track,” Stewart said. “When it’s time to go do my job, I take it seriously. I look at it from a different standpoint than most people do. I get that way because I really care about what I do. All I care about is putting trophies on my shelf and trying to win championships.”

People mistake his intensity for volatility, especially right after he crawls out of his race car.

“When I leave the race track, it’s a whole different deal,” Stewart said. “The stress is gone, the pressure’s gone. I’m a kid who hasn’t grown up yet. I’m probably going to hang on to that as long as I can.”

Besides, Stewart said, he’s never thrown a punch in Winston Cup.

“You guys see fights on basketball courts, football fields, hockey rinks every week,” Stewart said. “I’ve not seen too many fistfights in Winston Cup racing. I look like a choir boy compared to all the other major sports.”

Wallace, Busch Get Together During Practice
Kurt Busch and Mike Wallace had a minor get-together that bruised Busch’s ego more than his car. Wallace was coming on to the track during the morning practice, and Wallace’s spotter cleared his driver. But Wallace wasn’t clear and pushed into Busch’s car, damaging the right rear and right side.

Busch sped into the garage area and nearly spun his car before turning toward his garage. Luckily, he kept control and didn’t hit anything or anyone.

Bodine’s Sleds in the Olympics
Bodine had one of his company’s bobsleds in the Winston Cup garage area this week, drawing interest from people who wanted to look at the Bo-Dyn sled. Bo-Dyn sleds will be used by the U.S. Olympic team this week, and Bodine said he would go to Salt Lake City and watch with a big smile on his face.

“The first time I saw one of our sleds go down a run in the Olympics, tears came to my eyes,” Bodine said. “I couldn’t talk. I got choked up. That’s what it means. It’s really for our country. Today, more than ever after what happened Sept. 11, more people are realizing how important our country is, how important our freedom is and what USA really stands for.

“I’ve always been very patriotic. I’m proud of that.”

While the Bo-Dyn sleds should be fast in Salt Lake, Bodine’s car was fast Monday at Daytona. He led the practice session with James Finch’s Ford.

“They have some really fast speedway cars,” Bodine said. “Ernie Elliott builds our engines, so we have some really good engines under the hood.”

Bodine will run all four superspeedway races and the season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He’d like to run Indianapolis and perhaps another race or two before making a full-time assault in 2003.

“Right now, James’ team isn’t ready to do that,” Bodine said. “We’re hoping for some good results here which will lead to some more racing.”

Music to Their Ears
When asked to describe what it’s like to race at nearly 190 mph at Daytona, Stewart described an uncomfortable scene.

“It’s hot, it’s noisy, no CD player, I can’t roll the window up,” Stewart said. “It’s pretty much constant heat, constant noise, constant wind.”

While we’re talking about CDs, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was asked what's the last CD he listened to. He admitted he did something a bit illegal.

“I just burned one the other day,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “Sue me.”

What music was on it? “A lot of rap. Some country, too.”

Stewart Hates Mirror-Driving
Stewart has been a vocal opponent of the tactic of mirror-driving, but Stewart was forced to practice it Sunday during the closing laps of his Budweiser Shootout victory. Stewart had to watch his mirror and block Earnhardt Jr. several times.

Still, Stewart hates to mirror-drive.

“I still feel the same way as I always have,” Stewart said. “That back straightaway is straight. Come off Turn 2 and look straight down there, and there is not one bow or bend in it. When guys are making lefts and rights down the backstretch to block guys, I hate that. I think it’s wrong. I don’t like seeing it in our sport. I don’t think it’s good for our sport because it’s going to hurt somebody eventually, and it killed somebody last year here because they had to block.

“It’s a step in the right direction by having the yellow line and at least keeping us up on the race track now. Now, the challenge is to try to get it to where we don’t have to weave and bob all over the racetrack to keep guys behind us. You do it because you have to, not because you want to. I don’t like doing it, but that’s what we had to do to win today. I do it about a third as much as everybody else does, just because I can only do it so much, and then I can’t do it anymore.”

Labonte, Earnhardt Jr. Thunder to Victories
If video games do indeed mimic real life, Bobby Labonte and Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be celebrating in 2002. The development team of EA Sports’ NASCAR Thunder video game recreated the season using the game, updating team and driver statistics, driver tendencies, the latest rules and the 2002 schedule.

The result? Labonte won the Daytona 500, with Earnhardt Jr. winning the Winston Cup championship. Labonte beat Jeff Burton, Sterling Marlin, Michael Waltrip and Mark Martin to win the Great American Race, while Earnhardt Jr. beat defending champ Jeff Gordon, Rusty Wallace, Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart for the title.

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2002

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