By PETE YOUNG and KEVIN KELLY
© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 7, 2001
DAYTONA BEACH -- Dodge celebrated its return to NASCAR with a vengeance during qualifying for the Daytona 500.
The race was another matter.
Dodge had captured the first three qualifying spots, but the manufacturer had mixed results on race day.
Almost five months later, it's deja vu. Dodge dominated Friday's Pepsi 400 qualifying, taking the first four spots.
Since returning to NASCAR, however, the manufacturer has yet to win a race. Could it happen tonight?
"We certainly hope so. We had a great race car here in the spring, we just didn't last long enough," said Stacy Compton, who qualified second in the 500 and third Friday. "I think we need to have some luck -- that's the whole thing in a nutshell. We've got a car capable of winning right now."
Sterling Marlin captured the pole, waiting through a 3-hour, 10-minute rain delay for the final 11 cars to take a crack at him. He was the only driver to turn a lap in less than 49 seconds (48.972, 183.778 mph).
"I thought we'd win one of the first six races," Marlin said. "If things had shook right we might have won one."
Marlin led much of the Daytona 500 and was in the lead pack during the final laps before finishing seventh. He made light contact with Dale Earnhardt on the final turn moments before Earnhardt crashed into the wall and died.
Marlin is fifth in the points, best among Dodge drivers. Like the others, however, he is winless.
"We'll get us one," he said. ODD TEAM OUT: Where Dodge is succeeding (qualifying), Pontiac is failing. The best Pontiac qualifier was defending Winston Cup champion Bobby Labonte in 33rd. Labonte and teammate Tony Stewart were the lone Pontiac drivers who didn't need provisionals.
Ken Schrader and Johnny Benson took provisionals. Mike Bliss, Andy Hillenburg and Ron Hornaday didn't qualify.
"They ought to cut the damn spoiler off (of the Pontiac) and get it like the Fords," said Barry Dodson, Bliss' crew chief. "It's a joke. ... If you want parity across the board, they've got it with three of the brands, but they've got us in a league by ourselves."
SAFETY PRECAUTIONS: Thirty-six drivers will wear some sort of head-and-neck restraint device, either the HANS or Hutchens Device.
Ward Burton was undecided although he was trying the Hutchens Device during practice. He said he would make a decision based on that practice.
Fewer than seven wore the HANS in the season-opening Daytona 500 when Earnhardt suffered a basal skull fracture, the same type of injury that killed three NASCAR drivers last season.
ODDS AND ENDS: Robert Huffman took the lead in theDAYTONAUSA.COM 150 with 26 laps left and held off Danny Bagwell and Shane Hmiel for his second Goody's Dash series victory of the season. A 13-car wreck in Turn 4 red-flagged the race but nobody was injured. . . . Stewart will work TNT's broadcast booth for two Busch Grand National races this season, starting with the Sunday's event at Watkins Glen International. ... Rookie Andy Houston, who had failed to qualify for six races, including the past three, earned the sixth spot.