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Five drivers to watch

By JOANNE KORTH, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 6, 2002


DALE EARNHARDT JR.

DALE EARNHARDT JR.

CAR: No.8 Chevrolet.

STARTING POSITION: Ninth.

BEST PEPSI 400 FINISH: First (2001).

NOTES: Earnhardt rates last year's emotional victory in the first Daytona race after his father's fatal crash in the Daytona 500 as his biggest. If he wins a fourth restrictor-plate race in seven events will they still say it's fixed?

MICHAEL WALTRIP

CAR: No.15 Chevrolet.

STARTING POSITION: Seventh.

BEST PEPSI 400 FINISH: Second (2001).

NOTES: Since winning the 2001 Daytona 500 on the same day friend and car owner Dale Earnhardt was killed, Waltrip has been content to protect Junior's flank in plate races. Ahead of Junior in the season standings, it might be Waltrip's turn to lead the parade.

JEFF GORDON

CAR: No.24 Chevrolet.

STARTING POSITION: Third.

BEST PEPSI 400 FINISH: First (1995, '98).

NOTES: Gordon has gone 24 races without winning, the longest streak of his career since he first won in 1994. Fast running out of things to accomplish in NASCAR, maybe Gordon is trying to be the first to win a championship without winning a race.

DALE JARRETT

CAR: No.88 Ford.

STARTING POSITION: Fifth.

BEST PEPSI 400 FINISH: First (1999).

NOTES: Jarrett's memorable battles at Daytona with the late Dale Earnhardt used to be called the "Dale and Dale Show." Maybe it's time for a sequel. Junior is the favorite, but Jarrett is a four-time winner at Daytona who knows how to keep an Earnhardt at bay.

TONY STEWART

CAR: No.20 Pontiac.

STARTING POSITION: 29th.

BEST PEPSI 400 FINISH: Sixth, (1999, 2000).

NOTES: Stewart had one of the strongest cars in Speedweeks but finished last in the Daytona 500 when the engine blew after one lap. Fifth in points, Stewart has been the circuit's hottest driver the past six races with one win, two top fives and four top 10s.

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