tampabay.com

Round and round

There was a time when James Hylton was a hot shot rookie.

By BRANT JAMES
Published January 16, 2007


DAYTONA BEACH - There was a time when James Hylton was a hot shot rookie, a rookie of the year in fact. His second-place finish in the driver standings is still the best by a rookie in the history of NASCAR's top series. That champion was David Pearson. The year was 1966.

Now 72 years old, his hair fully white, Hylton was back at Daytona International Speedway on Monday for the second of two preseason test sessions, attempting to become the oldest to qualify for a race at NASCAR's top level. Hershel McGriff (1993) and Jim Fitzgerald (1987) each started races at age 65.

"I'm really 27," he joked. "It's just my old face that's wrinkled."

Hylton's unlikely venture is being sponsored by boyhood friend and Dunedin resident J.C. Weaver, a country music performer/producer who has toured with legends like Conway Twitty and Johnny Cash and convinced Loretta Lynn to co-sponsor an ARCA car for Hylton last year. Weaver hopes to run 19 races, some with part-time driver Damon Lusk, in a No. 58 Chevrolet bought from Richard Childress Racing.

Hylton won twice in NASCAR's top series (Talladega in 1970 and Richmond in 1972), before all but 11 drivers scheduled to run full-time this season were born. Last season he set the Busch Series record for oldest man to qualify when he started 40th and finished 41st at Milwaukee. He has stayed sharp by running an entire ARCA schedule last year, finishing 18th in points and racing competitively against men half his age. NASCAR approved him to test at Daytona and will observe him before clearing him to race.

Hylton's speed was worst of 62 cars testing on Monday, more than 5 mph slower than David Gilliland's best lap of 185.090.

Hylton said making a qualifying attempt at Daytona made perfect sense.

"I've been successful here," said Hylton who has 16 top-10s and a third-place finish in 36 starts at the track. "We've tried to use our heads on it. Leave here and go to Bristol and do 500 laps? I don't think so."

Dave Marcis holds the record for oldest Daytona 500 starter when he finished 42nd in 2002 at age 61. 

Bygones

Carl Edwards, right, is still addressing his verbal clash with Tony Stewart six months after an incident at Pocono. Edwards called Stewart "a jerk" and threatened physical violence after he was caught up in the wreck when Stewart took out Clint Bowyer. Stewart responded with insults via the media. Recently Stewart reiterated his feelings that Edwards is the series' "Eddie Haskell," as in nice only on the surface, on his satellite radio show. Edwards apologized Monday for speaking his mind.

"What I did wrong was I got out of the car and made it a personal attack, said some things I shouldn't have said," Edwards said. "Obviously, I really upset Tony. And so for that I apologize. I shouldn't have done that. I've learned we're all in this together, all of us drivers. I'd do anything in the world for Tony, I think he's a good guy. I hope we can put that behind us ... If we can go into Daytona and draft together and finish 1-2 in the Daytona 500 that would be fine with me."

Spark plugs

Michael Waltrip's right rear quarterpanel bore the message: "We miss you BP," in honor of former champion/broadcaster Benny Parsons, who is hospitalized because of complications from chemotherapy to treat lung cancer. ... Former open-wheel champion Juan Pablo Montoya was sixth-fastest in the No. 42 Dodge in his first day in a stock car at DIS. ... Zephyrhills' David Reutimann was 25th-fastest (183.191) in the No. 00A Toyota.

Times Staff Writer Brant James on the scene for testing Monday at Daytona International Speedway.