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France rid of cancer

By KEVIN KELLY

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 15, 2000


TALLADEGA, ALA. -- NASCAR president Bill France is cancer free and working occasionally in his Daytona Beach office, Darlington Raceway president Jim Hunter said Saturday.

France, who revealed he had an undisclosed form of cancer 10 months ago, has lost approximately 40 pounds because of a muscle condition for which he is undergoing therapy, according to Hunter.

"He is doing better and visiting the office," Hunter said. "Everybody is greatly encouraged knowing that he's cancer free. He's doing the therapy to get his muscles back in shape."

France, president of NASCAR since 1972, told his employees in late December that he had cancer.

In 1997, he suffered a mild heart attack while in Japan for an exhibition race. Last February, he gave some of his day-to-day responsibilities to Mike Helton, who was promoted to chief operating officer.

"I look at it from a personal standpoint," said car owner Richard Childress, who will see France this week. "He's a good friend and he's always been a good friend to us. It's good for the sport to have him back but, as friends and somebody I've admired for many years, it's real special to see him back up and going."

RULES CHANGES: After a morning practice that saw cars approaching speeds of 200 mph, NASCAR made a last-minute decision to reduce the size of the holes in restrictor plates from 1 inch to 15/16s.

"With the practice speeds we were seeing this morning, we looked at the option and exercised that option," Helton said.

Drivers were told of the change and handed a new plate following second-round qualifying.

Points leader Bobby Labonte led the morning session with a speed of 198.475 mph but dropped to 189.470 mph in the last hour of practice, or "Happy Hour".

Though seven Chevrolets will start in the top 10, five Ford drivers were among the top 10 in the final practice.

"Where do you need to be on the last lap? Tomorrow, I'd rather be out front on the last lap," said Lakeland's Joe Nemechek, who will start first in the No. 33 Chevrolet. "This morning, if you had asked me that, I would have said, "No, I don't want to be out front. I'd rather be second.' "

ROUGH DAY: Jeff Gordon was forced to go to a backup car after mishaps during both practices.

Gordon ran over a series of cones in the morning practice, damaging the front of his car.

"Two guys were in front of me," Gordon said. "I went to go to the inside of them and there were a whole lot of pylons lined up. They're not normally there, but they were there when you're qualifying for first round and second round. I forgot they were there and blasted every one of them."

In "Happy Hour", the left front shock came loose and cut his tire. The incident caused enough damage to force Gordon's team to go to a backup.

Though he qualified eighth, Gordon will start at the rear of the field.

"The biggest problem is not the car but starting in the back," he said. "It will be plenty fast enough to run up front. The problem is I'm starting so far back."

MADE IT: Darrell Waltrip made the field in second-round qualifying with a lap of 185.668 mph. He will start 34th in his final race at Talladega Superspeedway.

"I can eat now because this morning I didn't eat my breakfast," Waltrip said. "I hadn't had much to eat all day because we were a little nervous about getting in the show. Once we got that done, well, that took a lot of pressure off everybody."

Ricky Craven was the fastest second-round qualifier at 186.325 mph. He will start 26th.

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