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Drivers' thoughts also turn to Irwin

By KEVIN KELLY and PETE YOUNG

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 8, 2001


DAYTONA BEACH -- While attention leading into the Pepsi 400 centered around NASCAR's first return to Daytona since Dale Earnhardt's death, many in the Winston Cup garage were remembering somebody else.

Saturday marked the one-year anniversary of Kenny Irwin's fatal crash at New Hampshire International Speedway.

Irwin was the second of four NASCAR drivers -- Adam Petty, Tony Roper and Earnhardt -- to die from a basal skull fracture in a 10-month span. His former team -- now the No. 01 -- started 25th in the Pepsi 400 with rookie Jason Leffler behind the wheel.

"It seems like we think about Kenny probably about every day since his death," said Andy Graves, team manager for the No. 01 Dodge owned by Chip Ganassi and Felix Sabates. "I don't think it ever gets any easier. They say time heals all wounds but when you have something like that it's going to take an awful long time.

"He was a very special person and a good friend of mine and I really miss him a lot."

FLORIDA FINALE?: Atlanta Motor Speedway president Ed Clark has expressed interest in moving his Winston Cup races to different dates next season. The track hosts the Cracker Barrell 500 in March and the season-ending NAPA 500.

Homestead-Miami Speedway president Curtis Gray said his facility, which has the second-to-last race of the season, would be interested in gaining the final race. The past two champions have clinched the title at Homestead-Miami.

"Sure it'd be great to have the last of the season," Gray said. "It'd be very prestigious."

MISSED OPPORTUNITY: For the first 23 laps it seemed pole-sitter Sterling Marlin would lay claim to his first victory of the year. Marlin, who led 20 of the first 23 laps, however, suddenly dropped back when his car became loose. Marlin, the 1996 Pepsi 400 winner, was moving back toward the front when he got caught up in the 12-car wreck with 19 laps left and was knocked out. DODGING VICTORY: Despite dominating qualifying, where it seized the first four starting positions, Dodge once again was denied a victory.

The manufacturer, which returned to NASCAR this season, has not won. Ward Burton, in fourth place, was the top Dodge finisher Saturday.

UNDECIDED: Kyle Petty doesn't know whether he'll race at New Hampshire, where son Adam died on May 12, 2000 -- when NASCAR returns for the New England 300 on July 22. He didn't race there last year.

BIG MONEY: Saturday was the third bonus race. The top five finishers from the last bonus race, the Coca-Cola 600 in May (Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart, Mark Martin and Bobby Labonte), each were aligned with a racing fan. If one of those five won, he and the fan would have received $1-million.

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