tampabay.com

Wimmer having a quieter month

By BRANT JAMES
Published February 15, 2005


DAYTONA BEACH - Scott Wimmer has somehow blended into the scenery. Not an easy thing considering that mustard yellow fire suit. And not a great sign; he'd draw more attention if he and his No.22 Dodge were performing especially well.

But every time someone came up to him last season, it was always that question.

The one about his Jan. 31, 2004 arrest - and later conviction - for driving while impaired in High Point, N.C.

A year after arriving at Daytona assuming he had lost his job and destroyed the biggest break of his fledgling career, Wimmer sees this Daytona 500 week as a reset, a chance to admit a mistake and get on with his second full year in Nextel Cup.

"It feels really good," Wimmer said. "I've got that part of my life behind me and my focus is back on racing and the job I have to do. I've learned so much from the experience and so many things I can take on with me in life. Coming down to Daytona and having a fresh start is something I feel good about and hopefully I'll make the most of it."

Wimmer, 29, completed his court-ordered 24 hours of community service this winter at a Winston-Salem, N.C., homeless shelter.

"On any given night they had 50 to 165 homeless people come in and they'd feed them dinner and go through a Bible lesson with them," he said. "It was really great to see not only people in my situation, but just a lot of volunteers come out and give them a warm meal and a roof over their head for one night."

Daytona represented extreme lows and highs for Wimmer last February. After laying himself prostrate to his sponsor (which stuck with him), media and NASCAR fan base, he produced what would be his best finish of the season - third in the Daytona 500.

"I just got in the race car and put my helmet on and didn't have to deal with any outside distractions," said Wimmer, who had just one other top 10 and finished 27th in points. "Go on and do my job. It felt great to be in a race car. I just had so many doubts coming down here that I wasn't going to be in a race car or I didn't know how long I was going to be in a race car. So I just went out and did the best job I could."

NO CHARGE: Neil Bonnett earned the Firecracker 400 pole in a Dodge Charger in 1977, the last time the model attempted to qualify at Daytona International Speedway. The new version was not as successful Sunday in 500 qualifying. Kyle Petty 's No.45 was the top Charger, in 12th.

TEAM: Petty was pleasantly surprised to see the reaction from the Evernham Motorsports crew when his teammate, Jeff Green , broke a motor attempting to make his qualifying run. Petty Enterprises is leasing motors from Evernham for the first time this season, hoping it can remedy a long-time dip in horsepower.

"Ray and all the Dodge guys were there on top of the 43," Petty said. "It's good to know you're part of something a little bit bigger than you've been part of in the past. Most of the time we'd break and people didn't even know we'd broke. We're in here for the long haul."

WAIT: Qualifying at Daytona is rarely exciting, and is generally a four-plus-hour event. Pole-sitter Dale Jarrett said he wasn't surprised that an unusually sparse crowd, estimated between 5,000-10,000, turned out.

"Unless I missed something, watching those cars go around there two laps at a time is not very exciting" said Jarrett, who won his third Daytona 500 pole. "There's is a lot of other things people would rather do than sit there. I don't know how long that took - six or eight hours. I watched two basketball games and a golf tournament before it was over."