Watching the exceptionally high calibre of racing put on by the 26 participants of Thursday's first Gatorade 125-mile, 50-lap Qualifying races at the Daytona International Speedway, the 26 starters of the day's second qualifier did themselves proud and brought the Florida fans to their feet once again with a race that featured all-out drafting battles, eleven changes of lead amongst nine drivers and a superb finish that was only decided after the officials had to study photographic evidence to separate Mike Skinner and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The two Chevrolet drivers battled nose to tail for the final two and a half laps of the 50-lap event with 'Little E' following Skinner's every move as the leader fought valiantly to break his pursuers draft. Try as he might, Earnhardt Jr could not get the nose of his Dale Earnhardt Inc. No.8 Budweiser Chevrolet alongside Skinners' No.31 Lowe's sponsored machine until the field came onto the tri-oval for the final time and despite a late lunge for the line, Skinner kept his edge.

The victory was a perfect tonic for Skinner's Richard Childress team, who watched Dale Earnhardt have victory snatched from under his nose in the first qualifier, and a great boost for a driver seeking to win his first ever Winston Cup points event on Sunday from his fourth starting position.

Jeff Burton was the best placed Ford in third position after battling his way to the front during the closing laps and despite securing eighth spot on the starting grid for Sunday's Daytona 500, he is the best placed Ford and was still u8nhappy with the amount of drag his Jack Roush owned machine was creating when in the draft.

Burton didn't lead a lap all day but his younger brother Ward, who finished a very close fourth in Bill Davis' No.22 CAT Dodge, was one of the most aggressive drivers throughout the race and spent nearly the entire race inside the top ten, leading the field until Skinner and then Earnhardt Jr barged past on lap 47. Burton will start tenth on Sunday and is the fourth Dodge inside the top ten on the grid for NASCAR's most prestigious race.

Fifth across the line, securing twelfth place on Sunday's starting grid was Rusty Wallace who was another driver to lead laps, twelve in total, second only to Earnhardt Jr's race-high 19. Wallace was unlucky not to find a drafting partner for the final lap as he was in line to take third until he ran out of friends while Ken Schrader followed him home in sixth position in the leading Pontiac.

Matt Kenseth, Ricky Craven, Dave Blaney and Mark Martin rounded out the top ten and while the two Roush Racing drivers had a relatively subdued run, both Blaney and Craven drove as if they had a lot to prove and both had a taste of the lead during the race. Blaney was particularly impressive in Bill Davis' second Dodge and he will be hoping to continue the form he showed towards the end of his rookie campaign when he became a regular top 15 contender.

Tony Stewart crossed the line in a disgruntled eleventh place after tangling with the unfortunate Elliott Sadler coming off Turn Two on lap 35 and suffering damage to his front splitter after leading several laps early on. Sadler's contact with the wall was enough to force him out of the race and into his backup car for Sunday's race, where he will start 40th.

Kurt Busch and Kyle Petty, two drivers who had to finish inside the top 14 to qualify for Sunday's race, both raced in to the starting field late on and recorded 12th and 13th place finishes respectively. Petty was particularly fortunate in the No.45 Sprint Dodge as he waited until the final lap before drafting inside the top 14.

The final automatic qualifying position went to Robert Yates Racing's Ricky Rudd, who was surprisingly anonymous in the No.28 Texaco Havoline Ford while just missing out in 15th was Terry Labonte and in 16th Jeremy Mayfield. Despite the inconvenience, Labonte's qualifying time of 49.502secs is good enough to put him 34th on Sunday's grid while Mayfield resorts to a Provisional and starts 38th.

Also finishing outside the top 15 but making 'the show' by virtue of qualifying speed or owners Provisionals were John Andretti (18th), Robert Pressley (19th) and Sadler who was classified 25th. Of those, Pressley was the most unfortunate as the driver of the No.77 Jasper Engines Ford drover superbly from last to first before getting caught out in the final shuffle and being stranded in the middle groove with no one to help him.

Also fishing outside the top 15 was the man who started the race from pole position and led the opening three laps, Stacy Compton. Compton had a quiet run in the No.92 Dodge, as did his counterpart in race one, Bill Elliott. With his Melling Racing crew probably fearful of sustaining any damage and losing their set-up, Compton cruised around at the tail end of the lead draft and eventually wound up last on the lead lap in 23rd position overall.

Of those who weren't so lucky, Todd Bodine and Dave Marcis came closest, Bodine by virtue of finishing 17th and Marcis by virtue of his reasonably quick qualifying time which makes him to fastest non-qualifier. Others who are currently packing their bags include veterans Morgan Shepherd and Hut Stricklin and occasional racers Norm Benning and Dwayne Leik, the latter of which was pulled up for being unable to stay on the same pace as everyone else.