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Economy downsizes Daytona qualifiers

BRANT JAMES
Published February 9, 2004

DAYTONA BEACH - Apparently the Daytona 500, the signature event of NASCAR's Nextel Cup season, is not immune from the economic woes that have put some teams out of business and threatened others.

The race once drew as many as 60 teams, but just 45 cars will attempt to make the 43-car field in Thursday's twin 125-mile qualifiers. ARCA regulars Kirk Shelmerdine and Andy Hillenburg, who were 44th and 45th in average qualifying speed on Sunday, fill out the field of NASCAR regulars and semi-regulars.

It's a risk worth taking if a team can secure financing. Last place in the Daytona 500 pays $177,000.

BUSCH PLAN: Lakeland native and Cup driver Joe Nemechek plans to run 14 races in his No.87 NEMCO Motorsports Busch series car this season, with Zephyrhills native David Reutimann filling in an undetermined amount of races around his rookie season in the Craftsman Trucks series.

"We're putting the finishing touches on the deal," Nemechek said. "We're going to try to win ourselves an owner championship."

Nemechek had hoped to put Reutimann in his Busch car full time this season but let him go when a full sponsorship could not be secured quickly enough. Darrell Waltrip then signed Reutimann to drive the No.17 Toyota.

"David's a great race car driver," Nemechek said. "Unfortunately, our full-time program did not come together. Darrell waited around a long time to see if our deal was going to come together."

I-WRECKED: Two-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves was injured during practice for Friday's International Race of Champion's season opener when his car hit the wall Sunday morning.

Castroneves, 28, was treated and released at Daytona's infield care center.

The IROC series pits drivers from different forms of racing in 100-lap events in identically prepared cars.

FLAGGED DOWN: Mike Skinner finished fifth in the Budweiser Shootout on Saturday but was assigned 15th place after NASCAR officials determined he advanced positions while driving below the yellow line. He was penalized by being sent to the back of the lead lap.

"I felt Rusty Wallace forced me below the yellow line and I didn't have any choice but to keep going or wreck everyone," Skinner said.

Boris Said ran as high as seventh and finished 10th of 19, not a bad performance for a road-racing specialist who qualified for the race by winning the pole at Sonoma, Calif., last year.

"I had a blast," said Said, who is lobbying for a full-time Cup ride. "I felt like I belonged out there."

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