Fords get relief after Bud Shootout

Monday, February 11, 2002

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Rules nearly overshadowed racing Sunday in the Budweiser Shootout.

Two hours after Tony Stewart's Pontiac held off a last-lap charge by the Chevrolets of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon at Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR made a move to give the beleaguered Fords some relief.

On a day when the top-finishing Ford, driven by three-time Daytona 500 champion Dale Jarrett, was a distant, uncompetitive sixth, NASCAR president Mike Helton said the height of the rear spoiler of the Tauruses will be cut a quarter-inch to 6 inches in an effort to even up the competition.

The new rule will be instituted after the second round of time trials today. It will be in effect in time for practice on Tuesday and Wednesday, and for Thursday's twin 125-mile qualifying races.

"That gives us a chance to see what this action creates," Helton said. "We've said all along we would adjust to get it right as quick as we can.

"We're making this change based on what we've seen on the race track in three days in Daytona."

In the opening round of time trials on Saturday, Robert Yates Racing teammates Jarrett and Ricky Rudd were 13th and 15th, the only Fords among the top 20.

Ford teams complain

The Ford teams in the Winston Cup Series have been complaining bitterly since last year of an aerodynamic disadvantage against the General Motors and DaimlerChrysler cars.

Following January testing here, NASCAR cut a quarter-inch off the Ford's rear spoilers, but the teams insisted it was not enough.

Rules were on everyone's mind Sunday as a mostly single-file race finally turned into a legitimate shootout at the end, with Stewart winning for the second straight year with an Earnhardt in his rearview mirror.

It was Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Stewart's rear bumper right to the finish line in the race that is considered a sneak preview of next weekend's Daytona 500.

Last year, Stewart outdueled Dale Earnhardt in the made-for-TV event at Daytona International speedway, just a week before the seven-time Winston Cup champion was killed in the Daytona 500.

"Winning that race last year with that black No. 3 in my mirror was the highlight of my career," Stewart said. "But this was just like last year. He may have 'Junior' behind his name, but he drives like Senior."

Gordon, the four-time and reigning Winston Cup champion, was also part of the exciting finish. He drew the last starting spot in the 22-car field but worked his car into position to make a run at the leader near the end of the 70-lap event.

Harder to pass

The race was a reflection of NASCAR's latest aerodynamic rules package that has slowed the cars and made it much harder to pass.

Stewart, the Winston Cup runner-up last year, led a five-car breakaway in the waning laps, pulling Earnhardt, Sterling Marlin, Ken Schrader and Gordon in a tight single file for lap after lap. Finally, six laps from the end, Gordon, who seemed to be one of the few drivers who could consistently pass, made a move around Schrader on the high side to take fourth. Gordon and Schrader then combined to pass Marlin two laps from the end.

On the final trip around the 2 1/2-mile track, Gordon chose the high side of the banked oval and got alongside Earnhardt. The two bogged down coming off the fourth turn, and Stewart won by about a car-length as Earnhardt edged Gordon for second.

Stewart averaged 181.295 mph and won $200,955.

Schrader's Pontiac finished fourth, just ahead of Marlin's Dodge. Jarrett was sixth.

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