By JOANNE KORTH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 14, 2003
DAYTONA BEACH -- Drivers had a feeling a visit to pit road, made necessary by smaller fuel cells being used for the first time at Daytona International Speedway, would spice up Thursday's 125-mile qualifying races.
They were right.
In the second race, Kurt Busch slammed on the brakes just in time to dive onto pit road with the majority of the field, but created a dangerous situation when he darted left in front of Kevin Harvick trying to reach his stall.
Busch's car spun backward into the pit wall, sending his jackman, Scott Ravel, sprawling on top of the car.
Ravel was not injured.
"The only real thing that we need to explain is that I'm sorry for making the mistake that I made," said Busch, a 24-year-old in his third Winston Cup season. "I hope that all of the people on pit road are safe and that everybody who deserved to be in the show is in the show."
The accident worked to Ken Schrader's advantage.
Harvick's No. 29 Chevrolet sustained heavy damage and was retired 10 laps from the finish with a handling problem. Rather than race his way into Sunday's Daytona 500, Harvick fell back on his qualifying time.
That made room for Schrader to finish 15th and grab the final transfer spot. Schrader's No. 49 Dodge was fast Saturday in the Bud Shootout, but qualified poorly and did not have enough owner points to make the field using a provisional.
"It might not have been the prettiest thing, but hey, we're in the race," Schrader said. "We dodged that bullet."
Harvick, a teammate at Richard Childress Racing to pole-sitter Jeff Green and 125-winner Robby Gordon, was unhappy with Busch but optimistic about Sunday's race.
"He was driving way over his head and it ended up costing us big," said Harvick, who will start 31st. "But it'll be okay. We've got a lot of guys here from the fab shop who will make this car better than it was. Now you get to watch us race from 31st to first."
SPEAKING HIS MIND: Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose father won six points championships driving for Richard Childress Racing, would like to see Childress' current trio of drivers be more supportive of each other.
"I don't have a problem with any of those guys, but they've got a volatile situation over there," said Junior, who drives for Dale Earnhardt Inc. in the Winston Cup series but competed in two Busch Grand National races for Childress last season.
"What I was upset with last year was how they worked against each other. (Green) and Harvick were too competitive with each other at times. You've got Richard Childress busting his a-- for all these years to get what he's got and I don't think those guys appreciate what the man is in this sport and the opportunity they have in his race cars."
SCARY SIGHT: When the first race ended, burly veteran Jimmy Spencer sprinted from his car to find rookie Greg Biffle -- to thank him. Biffle gave Spencer's back bumper a push among a pack of seven cars racing for the final transfer spot.
Both made it.
"I just thanked him for pushing me across the line," said Spencer, known to chase down people with whom he is not happy. "Biffle really helped me there."
CALL FOR A CHANGE: Two-time Daytona 500 champion Sterling Marlin was disappointed that racing in the 125s was mostly follow the leader. After only two lead changes on the track during 100 laps of green-flag racing, Marlin said the aerodynamic package needs tweaking.
"You can't pass," said Marlin, driver of the No. 40 Dodge. "Guys would get on the outside and get shot to the back. I think we need to run a little faster and mix it up a little better. The 500 is going to come down to who will follow who for 180 laps and then race the last 20."
ROOKIES RULE: Of this year's six candidates for rookie of the year, only Larry Foyt failed to qualify. The others either raced their way in or used their qualifying speed, including Casey Mears, who grabbed the transfer spot in the first 125 in the No. 41 Dodge.
CLOSE CALL: Mike Skinner made the 500 despite a mistake on pit road. Skinner stalled the No. 4 Pontiac and had to be pushed to refire the engine. Using a provisional, Skinner was the last to make the 43-car field.
PIT STOPS: Reigning Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart, who started last in the second race after having engine trouble in Monday's time trials, finished fifth. ... Rusty Wallace was fourth, but his No. 2 Dodge failed postrace inspection over the legality of the carburetor. NASCAR officials said repercussions will be announced today, but the infraction will not alter which drivers make the Daytona 500 field.