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Marlin, Earnhardt Win Gatorade125s

13 February 1998

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Sterling Marlin and Dale Earnhardt were winners Thursday in the Gatorade 125-Mile Qualifying Races at Daytona International Speedway, and will start Sunday's Daytona 500 from the second row.

Marlin, driving his first race in the Coors Light Chevrolet owned by Felix Sabates, won the first 50-lap race on the 2.5-mile high-banked superspeedway, while Earnhardt kept his winning streak alive by winning the second event under caution in the GM Goodwrench Service Plus Chevrolet.

"It feels great to be back," said Marlin, the 1994 and 1995 champion of the Daytona 500, and winner of a qualifying race in 1995. "We got faster and faster here every day this week. It seemed everyone was running up high today, so we went to the bottom, and were able to hold it wide open all the way around. That won us the race."

Earnhardt won a Daytona 500 Qualifying Race for the ninth straight year. The driver of the GM Goodwrench Service Plus Chevrolet held off Michael Waltrip, Mike Skinner, Ernie Irvan and Rusty Wallace in the race to the caution flag after Loy Allen spun on the second to the last lap.

While it was Earnhardt's record 30th victory at Daytona International Speedway, he is still seeking his first Daytona 500 victory.

"I can't wait until Sunday," Earnhardt said from Victory Lane. "Our race car did a super job. I've been under the weather a little bit this week, and I'm glad I made it to the end. I don't know if I could have held off Michael (Waltrip) on the last lap, but I led him for the first 49 laps. The Daytona 500 will be a very competitive race."

Brothers Bobby and Terry Labonte will start the 40th running of the "Great American Race" by virtue of posting the two fastest times in Bud Pole Award Qualifying on Saturday.

Thursday's races completed the 43-car field for the Daytona 500, with the final lineup based on finishing position in the qualifying races, speeds posted in time trials, and provisional positions based on 1997 car owner's points.

Among the drivers failing to qualify were Todd Bodine, David and Jeff Green, Johnny Benson, Wally Dallenbach and Hut Stricklin.

The first Gatorade 125 saw Ken Schrader and Johnny Benson tangle on the final lap while battling for the 15th and final transfer position. A pair of earlier incidents involved Kenny Irwin, Todd Bodine, Dick Trickle, Dan Pardus and Steve Grissom.

The second Gatorade 125 saw a chain-reaction incident sideline Darrell Waltrip, Ricky Craven, Steve Park, Ricky Rudd and Mark Gibson. All but Gibson were able to advance to the Daytona 500. Earnhardt led a draft of cars waiting for a shootout on the final lap, but Allen's spin brought out the caution for the white flag lap.

Friday's activities include the running of the True Value Firebird International Race of Champions and Discount Auto Parts 200 presented by ACDelco Rapidfire for the NASCAR Goody's Dash Series. Indy Racing League champion Tony Stewart drew the pole position for the IROC event, which matches 12 top drivers from different forms of motorsports in identically-prepared Pontiac Firebirds.

Saturday, the NASCAR Busch Series opens its 1998 campaign with the running of the NAPA Auto Parts 300. Mike McLaughlin and Joe Nemechek will start the race from the front row, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. set to make his first Daytona start from the third position.

Sunday's Daytona 500 is set to take the green flag at 12:15 p.m. The race will be televised live by CBS Sports and broadcast by the Motor Racing Network family of affiliates. Call the Speedway Ticket Office at (904) 253-7223 to purchase tickets to the Friday and Saturday events at Daytona.