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Press Snoop: Stewart wins, Waltrip gets in

16 February 2007


TONY STEWART won the first of the two Gatorade Duel at Daytona races Thursday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway. He led 37 laps in the 62-lap race, more than any other driver. This finish guarantees him a spot on the inside second row for the NASCAR Nextel Cup Daytona 500 on Sunday.

Stewart said: "We have two more days of practice. I was up there a lot yesterday. So I know what we've got. I felt like I could win the race from the bottom. Yeah, the qualifying races and shootouts and the July race are great, but I really want this race on Sunday badly."

So far no-one has won the Bud Shootout, the Duel qualifying race and the Daytona 500. Stewart is two-thirds the way there, aiming for his picture to be hung in the Wall of Fame - reserved for the Daytona 500 winner.

Second was DALE EARNHARDT Jr, who recovered from an earlier tap from MICHAEL WALTRIP, which sent Junior spinning down into the infield. Earnhardt said: "I was surprised. Sometimes people get real tight coming up off that corner. It is a bad place to lose a nose and it happens a lot. I suspect that is the case. I don't think Michael would do anything like that intentionally to anybody. He is a pretty nice guy."

Third through fifth were JEFF BURTON, DAYTONA 500 polesitter DAVID GILLILAND - who was the top Ford - and DENNY HAMLIN. Gilliland joins several other drivers whose cars have had illegal parts confiscated this week. He and his Robert Yates Racing team-mate, RICKY RUDD, had unproved probe heaters in the transmission. Their parts were added Thursday to the NASCAR display of illegal parts, outside the NASCAR hauler. No penalties were announced.

Another driver, DAVE BLANEY, added to the NASCAR display Thursday. His windshield braces were in violation of NASCAR regulations. He retired with transmission woes.

Chevrolet was the marque of choice for seven of the top ten finishers in the Duel, and so far no Chevrolets have been invited into the NASCAR penalty box.

Waltrip was the top Toyota in ninth place, forced into a back-up car after his primary car was confiscated last Sunday by NASCAR for a thorough going-over. He ran the back-up car of team-mate DAVID REUTIMANN, as he thought it better than his own. Waltrip made the field for the Daytona 500 and, after the Duel, thanked his wife and NASCAR president Mike Helton for keeping him in the race when he wanted to go home Wednesday.

Last Sunday, NASCAR penalised Waltrip for violations found during pre- and post-qualifying for the Daytona 500. His intake manifold was taken before qualifying for having an unapproved substance and it was sent back to the NASCAR R&D Centre in Concord. Waltrip was allowed to qualify, but it was with a new manifold, and afterwards his car was impounded. He was told he would be allowed to run the Gatorade Duel in a back-up car.

On Wednesday, NASCAR announced its decision for violations - happy Valentine's Day. Waltrip was penalised 100 Driver championship points, his Daytona 500 qualifying time was disallowed, and his wife ELIZABETH 'BUFFY' WALTRIP was penalised 100 owners' championship points. Waltrip can still run the Daytona 500, but crew chief DAVID HYDER and vice-president of competition BOBBY KENNEDY were ejected from the week's events and suspended indefinitely. Hyder was also fined $100,000. SCOTT ECCLESTONE will be the fill-in crew chief for Waltrip.

The Waltrip violations were from NASCAR Nextel Cup Series rule book: 12- 4-A: Actions detrimental to stock car racing; 12-4-Q: Car, car parts components and/or equipment not conforming to NASCAR rules); 20-15.C: Gasoline must not be blended with alcohols, ethers or other oxygenates. NASCAR is still investigating the confiscated car. It is thought that the substance, which Waltrip said last Sunday was oil, was coated inside the manifold and enhanced the race car fuel to improve horsepower.

All fines assessed and collected by NASCAR go back into the points funds for all three of the NASCAR top tier series.

Waltrip had a very sombre press conference in the Daytona Media Centre before the Thursday Gatorade Duel. He was very apologetic, saying it was the work of one man on the team. Waltrip never made eye contact during the short conference, and spent most of his time looking down at his prepared notes.

"This is not the action of an organisation, a manufacturer or a sponsor," he said, "This was an independent act done without consent or authorisation from me or any of my executive management team. As an owner, I realise I am ultimately held responsible for the actions of my employees. Therefore, I accept the penalties issued by NASCAR.

"I respect NASCAR's rules, its people and the sport's integrity, which is why I am so sad and embarrassed. I am dedicated to get to the bottom of this because I will not let the independent act of an individual or individuals tarnish the incredible accomplishment my organisation has made to be where we are today.

"I want to apologise to the other owners, who know how hard I've worked to get here in such a short period of time, NASCAR, Toyota, NAPA, all my sponsors, the drivers and especially the fans."

MIKE BLISS was the top Dodge in 14th place. He lost out making the Daytona 500 field by two feet, coming in behind BORIS SAID. Bliss spoke about the race and the NASCAR procedure for making the Daytona 500 field - "It's so complicated and it sucks. I wish we could just race into the race. I want to cry."

Thirteen of the 31 drivers in the first Duel had to finish 1-2 best of the unqualified drivers to make the Daytona 500 field. Twenty-four cars finished on the lead lap.

JAMES HYLTON was running eighth with ten laps to go, good enough for the top transfer spot... but then he got passed. The 72-year old racer was runner-up in NASCAR's top series in 1967 and 1971. His last NASCAR victory was on 6 August 1972, when more than 25 of the current Duel field hadn't yet been born. Hylton didn't make the Daytona 500 race, but wasn't all that surprised. He has said all along that it would be a stretch to make the race, but the septuagenarian was grinning ear to ear.

"I don't remember when I had such fun," he said, "When you're running with this breed of superstars you don't want to do anything to wreck them or get in their way. They were all real good to me out there. I did the best I could and we'll get them next time."

ROBBY GORDON was the catalyst in a two-car accident which took out rookie AJ ALLMENDINGER's #84 Red Bull Toyota.

Gordon said: "You know, I got to take a little bit of blame on this. The #72 [of top finishing rookie BRANDON WHITT] got tight coming off turn two, to go into turn three and four, I didn't want follow him, so I started to transfer down lanes. I was clear for a second, but the #84 closed up the gap and got the back of us. I don't know if I got down on him or if he got in the back of me, but it's kind of a bummer."

Allmendinger was disappointed, but not bitter, afterwards.

"I'm not excited, let's put it that way," he said, before later, while waiting to qualify in the Truck race, adding "It is what it is."


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