By JOANNE KORTH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 10, 2002
DAYTONA BEACH -- Tony Stewart never will forget battling the late Dale Earnhardt to win last year's Budweiser Shootout at Daytona International Speedway.
"It was cool the day that I won, beating Dale at his own game," Stewart said. "That gave you the respect that you were looking for. And after we lost Dale, it made that win so much more special."
Stewart will defend his win today against 21 challengers, a record field for the all-star event that marks the first time during Speedweeks that Winston Cup cars race on the 2.5-mile track.
The 70-lap event is considered a preview of what the Daytona 500 will be like. The field for the non-points event is comprised of pole winners from 2001 and former event winners. The winner receives at least $200,000 of the $966,000 purse.
Competing gives drivers an advantage going into Thursday's Twin 125 qualifying races and the Daytona 500, providing experience with NASCAR's new aerodynamic package.
"The Bud Shootout is a huge advantage for the guys who are in it," said four-time Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon, who drew the last starting spot. "You can try, but you really don't get race conditions until the Shootout. I'm looking at it as a chance to play around with some stuff and see what I need to do to move through the field."
MR. FEBRUARY?: Baseball Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson purchased a share of Andy Houston's Busch Grand National team, becoming the latest celebrity to join NASCAR's ownership ranks.
Jackson is a race fan.
"This is not a cameo appearance," Jackson said at a news conference Friday in the infield media center. "Since I first came to Daytona about 20 or 25 years ago, I've always wanted to be involved as an owner. I didn't know if I ever really thought it would happen."
Houston, who ran for Winston Cup rookie of the year last season before losing his ride, will run the full 34-race schedule for Herzog Jackson Motorsports. The team, founded in 1987 by Bill Herzog, fielded cars for Jimmie Johnson in 2001.
Jackson hopes the team will move to Winston Cup in 2003.
"If we're ready, we'll know it," he said. "The time line of when we go to Winston Cup will take care of itself."
DASHING TO VICTORY: Robert Huffman beat Jake Hobgood in a two-lap shootout Saturday to win the Daytona USA 150, the opening race in the NASCAR Goody's Dash Series.
Huffman won the event for the third time.
"I'm not sure what my secret is," said Huffman, who led just five laps but beat Hobgood by 0.168 seconds after a late caution bunched the field for a restart. "I guess if I knew I'd probably tell somebody and give it away."
IN POSITION: Shawna Robinson, looking to join Janet Guthrie as the only women to start the Daytona 500, turned a lap of 182.663 mph, 30th fastest, during front-row qualifying.
"That's what we were hoping for," said Robinson, a rookie of the year candidate in the No. 49 Dodge. "We wanted a good starting spot for the 125s and then race. We've been looking for that speed for a long time."
Guthrie made two appearances, finishing 12th in 1977 and 11th in 1980.
PIT STOPS: The engine in Kyle Petty's No. 45 Dodge blew as he attempted to qualify. He did not post a time and will try again Monday during second-round qualifying. ... Drivers with odd-numbered rankings from Saturday's qualifying will race in the first Gatorade 125 on Thursday, even numbers in the second. ... For the second day, Geoffrey Bodine's No. 09 Ford was fastest in Budweiser Shootout practice.