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Gordon's engine woes make crew scramble

By KEVIN KELLY

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 18, 2001


DAYTONA BEACH -- For the second straight year, final practice for the Daytona 500 left one top team scurrying to repair its car.

Two-time race winner Jeff Gordon blew an engine and lightly scraped the wall in Turn2 after completing five laps in the 60-minute session.

Damage to his No. 24 Chevrolet was minimal.

"That's our race motor," said Gordon, who will start 13th. "Something definitely broke. We've got other good motors so we're in good shape. ... I want to make sure we find out why so that if there was anything that we had in there that would make that happen again (today,) we can take care of it now."

The three-time Winston Cup champion had posted the fourth-fastest speed (190.706 mph). He said he brushed the wall to avoid other drivers.

"(Saturday practice) is just fine-tuning," Gordon said. "But it was important for us ... because we put that race motor in. It was crucial for us ... because if we hadn't had time with that race motor, we would have broke it (today)."

Last year, Dale Jarrett wrecked during Happy Hour practice. After crew members worked through the night repairing the car, he won the race.

Mark Martin, who will start 22nd, was fastest during practice at 191.158 mph followed by Steve Park (191.136 mph) and Ward Burton (190.751 mph).

"The car can win the 500," said Burton, who will start 10th in a Dodge. "We've got to have some luck and keep the fenders on it."

WHERE'S BOBBY?: Bobby Labonte, the defending Winston Cup champion, has kept a low profile in the days leading up to the 500.

How has the defending Winston Cup champion done it?

Finishing 19th in the Budweiser Shootout doesn't hurt. Neither does taking a provisional to get into the Daytona 500.

"We really haven't been pacing ourselves," Labonte insisted Saturday morning. "But we haven't been totally distraught either."

Labonte will start 37th.

BIG PICTURE: By starting second in the 500, odds are Stacy Compton won't win.

Only seven winners have come from the outside pole.

"We'd like to win the Daytona 500, but we need to get off decent in the points," team owner Mark Melling said. "That's a big concern for us. If we finished in the top 20 (today), we'd probably be pretty happy."

ODDS AND ENDS: Fox broadcaster and former NFL quarterback Terry Bradshaw was the grand marshal for the NAPA 300 and got to ride with Dale Earnhardt in the pace car after the race. ... Larry Foyt, the 23-year-old son of A.J. Foyt, led a lap in his first Busch Grand National race at Daytona. He finished 19th and completed all 120 laps.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I think (NASCAR) wants Dodge to win the race. ... Maybe the good Lord above will make them all blow up on Sunday." -- Jimmy Spencer's reaction when told NASCAR wouldn't make any rules changes to help Ford drivers before the race.

Driver rankings

How would Dale Earnhardt fare against Michael Schumacher? What about Juan Montoya versus Jeff Gordon? From today until the final NASCAR Winston Cup race in November, Times auto racing writer Kevin Kelly will attempt to answer those questions by ranking the top 10 drivers in the world. It's a challenging task given the variables, so only drivers from five major racing series -- Formula One, NASCAR, CART, Indy Racing League and NHRA -- will be considered. The rankings are based primarily on performance and will appear Saturdays on the Times' auto racing page.

1. Michael Schumacher, Formula One

2. Mika Hakkinen, Formula One

3. Dale Earnhardt, NASCAR Winston Cup

4. Juan Montoya, Formula One

5. Jeff Gordon, NASCAR Winston Cup

6. David Coulthard, Formula One

7. Michael Andretti, CART

8. Tony Stewart, NASCAR Winston Cup

9. Gil de Ferran, CART

10. Bobby Labonte, NASCAR Winston Cup

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