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Somber thoughts during practice

By KEVIN KELLY

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 6, 2001


DAYTONA BEACH -- Though qualifying was postponed until noon today because of rain, Winston Cup drivers practiced for 90 minutes on Thursday at Daytona International Speedway.

It marked the first time most had driven on the track since Dale Earnhardt's fatal crash on the last lap of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 18.

"The first time I went out there to practice, I went down on the back straightway, and you go into Turn 3 and see all the skid marks still on the racetrack and all that," Rusty Wallace said. "I'd be crazy to tell you I didn't think about it. I sure did."

Mike Skinner, Earnhardt's teammate at Richard Childress Racing, vaulted to the top of the speed chart with a few minutes remaining in practice.

His 184.923 mph lap was better than Kevin Lepage (184.540 mph), Sterling Marlin (183.475), Ward Burton (182.882) and Ricky Craven (182.823).

Because of the schedule shift, qualifying for today's Goody's Dash Series race was canceled. The DAYTONAUSA.COM 150 starting field was set by points.

RETIRING: At the track where he made his first Winston Cup start, Dave Marcis announced he will retire after running a limited schedule the rest of this season.

The 60-year-old native of Wausau, Wis., has five wins in 879 career starts and holds the record for 32 consecutive starts in the Daytona 500. He has struggled in recent seasons.

"I have mixed emotions about this deal," said Marcis, who has qualified for one race this season. "Is it time, or isn't it time? I don't know how you know that. Racing has not just been a job. It's been fun, too."

Marcis will attempt to qualify for six races after Daytona: the Tropicana 400, Brickyard 400, Southern 500, MBNA.com 400, Alabama 500 and season-ending NAPA 500.

"It's becoming difficult for a single-car team to compete," he said. "You need the additional people and the engineering people that two- or three-car teams can afford."

A NEW ROLE: With his television duty finished for the rest of the season, former Winston Cup crew chief turned Fox analyst Larry McReynolds is back in a more familiar role this week.

He has been hired as a consultant for the No. 44 Dodge team and driver Buckshot Jones. The team, 39th in the Winston Cup standings, is owned by Petty Enterprises.

"I want to be here as a sounding board, someone to bounce stuff off of, somebody to give them ideas and thoughts," McReynolds said. "I want to help them. I don't want to be just riding on someone's coattail."

RULE CHANGE: Winston Cup qualifying at tracks a mile or greater in length will be cut from two laps to one starting with the New England 300 on July 20.

Exceptions to the rule are Daytona International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Richmond International Raceway and Martinsville Speedway.

MENDED: Recovered from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, Kevin Gabard returned to his spot as car chief and front-tire carrier for Skinner.

Gabard was injured during the April 8 race at Martinsville Speedway when a tire from another team struck his leg.

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