Earnhardt Wins Crash-Filled Busch Race
45 minutes ago
By MIKE HARRIS, AP Motorsports Writer
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Dale Earnhardt Jr. is making this look easy.
Junior got out front early and simply stayed there Saturday en route to winning the Koolerz 300 Busch Series race.
It was his third victory at Daytona International Speedway in eight days, including the Bud Shootout and a 125-mile qualifying race for Sunday's Daytona 500.
A four-car accident two laps from the end put the 120-lap, 300-mile race under a caution flag for the final trip around the 2 1/2-mile oval, with Earnhardt's No. 8 Chevrolet driving slowly across the finish line behind the pace car.
"It feels great," Earnhardt said. "We're having a great time. I'm happy, happy, happy! We're winning a bunch of races.
"There's still one to go."
The only competition Earnhardt hasn't won this week is pole qualifying for Sunday's race. He'll start second, beside Jeff Green, but he still goes in as the favorite to win NASCAR's biggest race.
Dale Earnhardt Sr., who was killed in the 2001 Daytona 500, won all the preliminary Daytona Speed Weeks races four times, but didn't win the big one in any of those years, although he finally did get a 500 win in 1998.
The sixth yellow flag of the day cost second-place Matt Kenseth any chance to challenge Junior on the last lap, but he wasn't expecting to beat him anyway.
"My car was good, but I needed somebody to give me a big push to get by that 8 car," Kenseth said.
The crash at the end of lap 119 started when Todd Bodine, running seventh, bumped open-wheel star Jimmy Vasser — making his first stock car start — from behind.
Vasser's car veered toward the top of the banking and hit Jason Keller, who bounced off the wall and was T-boned in the driver's side by Mike McLaughlin.
Earnhardt, only an occasional starter in the Busch Series, took the lead from Kevin Harvick in the leaders' pit stops during a caution period on lap 54. He led the rest of the way and was never really challenged.
The win on Saturday gives Junior five total race victories at Daytona, including the 2001 Pepsi 400. But the third-generation driver is still far behind his father's Daytona-record 34 wins. The elder Earnhardt won the Busch race seven times.
Harvick came back to finish third, despite a penalty — for leaving the pits with a gas catchcan stuck in the car — that sent him all the way to 30th place on lap 81.
"You can't make a mistake and expect to beat the best of the best," he said.
Earnhardt became the first driver to win back-to-back Busch races here since the elder Earnhardt won his fifth in a row in 1994.
Junior averaged 143.770 mph on the way to his 16th Busch Series victory. It was also the 28-year-old driver's third victory in his last four Busch starts. He was the series champion in 1998 and 1998 before moving up to the Winston Cup series.
With the late crash shaking up the top 10, Mike Wallace wound up fourth, followed by Jamie McMurray, Bodine, Bobby Hamilton Jr. and Kasey Kahne.
Green was subbing for pole-winner Joe Nemechek, who sat out the race with the flu. Harvick passed him on the start and Green never led. Green's race ended when Scott Riggs bumped him from behind and sent his car spinning into the wall.
Michael Waltrip, who won this race last year, also was a victim of someone else's mistake. Vasser, riding at the top of a three-wide draft, bounced off the wall and hit Randy Lajoie, who slammed into Waltrip and sent him hard into the wall.
Stacy Compton had the most spectacular crash of the day. He banged the outside wall coming off turn four and the engine compartment and underside of his car burst into flame. The fire continued to roar and the smoke bellow out until Compton got the car stopped in the infield grass nearly halfway down the back straightaway.
All the drivers except Keller were checked and released in the infield medical center. Keller was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital to be checked for a possible concussion.