Bobby Labonte and Dale Earnhardt Win Gatorade Twin 125's
12 February 1999
Daytona Beach, FL--Bobby Labonte and Dale Earnhardt were the class of the field in Thursday's Twin 125 qualifying race. The transfer races determine the starting field of 43 cars. For Labonte, whose victory means that he will start inside of row #2, the victory could not have come at a better time. Starting from the 10th position, Labonte systematically worked his way through the field to challenge then-leader Jeff Gordon. The victory may be a great omen for Labonte who won the both pole positions at Daytona last year only to finish second to Dale Earnhardt in February and Jeff Gordon in October.
Behind Labonte the finishing order of the top fifteen in the first race was Gordon #24, J.Burton #99, Schrader #33, Martin #6, Spencer #23, M.Waltrip #7, Pressley #77, Marlin #40, T.Labonte #5, Mast #98, Park #1, Nadeau #9,Musgrave #75, and Rudd #10. For Stanton Barrett driver of the #64 in the Heritage Consumer Products Chevy the 16th finishing position had to be a bitter pill to swallow. Missing out on the Daytona 500 by less than 4/100's of a second will make for a difficult night of sleep. Other driver's not making the show from the first race were Morgan Shepard, Buckshot Jones, Billy Standridge, Mark Gibson, Norm Benning, Jeff Green and Daytona Beach native Dan Pardus. For Pardus, the speedweeks have been especially difficult. During the ARCA race last week-end he was caught-up in a race-ending accident.
The first race was marred by a first lap incident involving Kenny Wallace in the #55 Square D Chevrolet and Wally Dallenbach in the #25 Budweiser Chevrolet. Dallenbach, putting a wheel down into the apron area of the racetrack, over-corrected his mistake which caused his car to spear into the back quarter panel of Wallace's car. The impact spunWallace backward on the track. Wallace trying to escape the oncoming cars was then hit by David Green smashing Wallace's front frame area. Upon returning to the pit area it was evident that Wallace's day of hope was dashed in the blink of an eye. The good news for Wallace was that his qualifying speed will be good enough to keep him in the field. Wallace will start in 42nd position. Also caught up in the melee were Dan Pardus, Jeff Green and John Andretti.
Gordon was the class of the field for the first 38 laps. Holding off a hard-charging Mark Martin and Kenny Schrader it looked like Gordon could pull away with or without help. Gordon appeared to be on cruise control to victory. Around lap 30 Labonte's lap times were getting quicker. The car was getting stronger as the race wore on. Finally on lap 38, Labonte dove inside of Gordon going into Turn Three and never looked back. The shuffling behind Labonte was intense as the driver's fought to keep their precious positions in the top 15.
The time of the first race was 45 min.and 52 seconds. The average speed was 163.517mph and was only marred by the caution on lap #1. Labonte won the race by .163 seconds.
Race #2 was the Dale Earnhardt show. Last year's Daytona 500 winner was the class of the field once again as he won his 10th straight 125 mile race. Over-all Earnhardt has won twelve of the qualifying races at Daytona. Pole-sitter Tony Stewart in the #20 Home Depot Car took the 29 car field to the green flag. Stewart looking for the all-important experience of drafting in the Winston Cup series held his own for the opening seven laps. Earnhardt starting from the fifth position had methodically worked his way through the field. Making a classic Earnhardt move he dove down to the lower part of the apron on lap 8, taking Jeremy Mayfield, Dale Jarrett and Rusty Wallace with him. By the time the shuffling was over, Stewart had been relegated to 7th place.
Behind the first pack of nine cars were Derrike Cope, Rich Bickle, Kyle Petty, Chad Little, Ricky Craven, Geoffrey Bodine, Kenny Irwin, Ernie Irvan and Andy Hillenburg. The back and forth drafting among these drivers for the precious positions of 10-15 might as well have been hand to hand combat. The drivers were exchanging positions on almost every lap.
When the dust finally settled it was Geoffrey Bodine who was the 15th qualifier in the field from race #2. Bodine, commenting in the post-race pit lane offered "this race today is probably one of the most important drive's in my career. To come here with no testing, hell we only put this team together two months ago, and to do what we did today is incredible. I am just so happy." It seemed that most of the garage area was happy for the popular driver from Elmira, NY.
For drivers Gary Bradberry, Ken Bouchard, Jim Sauter, Dick Trickle, Glen Morgan and David Green the week-end would come to an abrupt end. Their hopes of making the 41st Daytona 500 were gone with the proverbial wind.
The top 15 finishing order was Dale Earnhardt #3, Jeremy Mayfield #12, Dale Jarrett #88, Rusty Wallace #2, Mike Skinner #31, Tony Stewart #20, Kevin Lepage #16, Bobby Hamilton #4, Ward Burton #22, Derrike Cope #30, Rick Bickle #45, Kyle Petty #44, Chad Little #97, Rick Craven #58 and Geoffrey Bodine #60.
Another happy person making the field was Derrike Cope. Struggling all during the week to find horsepower, the team leased a motor to improve the team's chances. The change was a good idea. Cope finished in 10th place and will start in 20th place on Sunday.
So now the field is set for another Daytona 500. The field of forty-three is set. Let's go racing!
David Treffer -- The Auto Channel