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Speed Weeks '04 at Daytona

Rookies race right into school of hard knocks

By BRANT JAMES
Published February 13, 2004

DAYTONA BEACH - Rookies had an eventful day in the two 125-mile qualifying races used to set the Daytona 500 field. And most of the events were bad.

In the first qualifier, Scott Riggs had a right front tire go flat on Lap 22, sending his No. 10 Chevrolet into the wall and eventually back to the garage. He dropped out and will start 36th.

Kasey Kahne was rammed on pit road by Jeff Gordon when he braked hard to avoid Dave Blaney, who apparently had missed his pit stall. Kahne fought back to finish 13th of 23 and will start 27th.

Brendan Gaughan was the standout of the group, finishing eighth in the odd-number qualifier to earn the 17th spot in the Daytona 500.

SAFETY FIRST: Pole-winner Greg Biffle led the first 22 laps of the odd qualifier but dropped to 13th after an extremely long pit stop. He made few attempts to reach the front again and finished 14th. Biffle, like many drivers on Thursday, complained that his car was tight and was instructed to gather as much information as possible for Sunday once he fell out of contention.

"I just had to feel it out and see what I could do with it," Biffle said. "I've got a pretty good idea of what I can do."

TEXAS TOAST: NASCAR CEO Brian France said Wednesday he would like to see the federal lawsuit brought against NASCAR by Speedway Motorsports shareholder Francis Ferko settled in court because he is confident of victory after reviewing evidence.

Ferko's lawsuit contends NASCAR reneged on a promise to provide a second Nextel Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway, which is owned by Speedway Motorsports. The France family owns International Speedway Corporation, which controls several tracks.

"I won't say we're anxious to do that," France said, "but a lot of the facts are in and people have had a chance to weigh in and when you look at it, saying we're in an anti-competitive environment, it's just not reality.

"Speedway Motorsports has benefited immensely with the Nextel Cup series and NASCAR in general. So it's my feeling we should just let it go and get it over with."

PRESIDENTIAL VISIT: Daytona International Speedway confirmed that President Bush will attend the Daytona 500. Track officials advise fans seated in the suite area to be prepared for heightened security and to leave home items that would fail a preflight inspection, such as pocket knives and scissors.

POPULARITY CONTEST: Online voting for NASCAR's most popular driver begins today at www.mostpopulardriver.com More than 40 drivers, including reigning titleholder Dale Earnhardt Jr., are eligible.

[Last modified February 13, 2004, 01:45:34]


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