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Stewart Leads Tuesday Practice Times for Daytona 500

10 February 1999

Daytona Beach, FL-February 9, 1999

Say what you will about Tony Stewart and his surprising pole row run. Fluke is not among the words that you can use. During today's practice session for the Daytona 500, Stewart showed the rest of the field that his outside pole position was deserved. Stewart's time of 46.940 seconds was the only time to break into the 46 second barrier. For Stewart and his Joe Gibbs Racing Home Depot Pontiac the anticipation of Sunday's race must be on the brink of unbridled enthusiasm. The mission for car owner Joe Gibbs will be to reign in the team and direct their energies toward focusing on raceday. Gibbs' previous career as a successful coach of the Washington Redskins will be an asset to find the right way of harnessing and motivating the team.

Hot on the heels of Stewart is another driver who will be a contender on Sunday-Mark Martin. The Valvoline driver has been in the top five of the speed charts during the test sessions in January as well as the practice and qualifying sessions for the Daytona 500. Martin, the winner of last Sunday's Bud Shoot-Out displayed the horsepower that is necessary to lead and win at Daytona.

For fans of Dale Earnhardt, Tuesday's practice time was welcomed news. Third fastest of the session with a best lap time of 47.077 seconds for a speed of 191.176mph, Earnhardt seemed to be making a statement that his defense of the Daytona 500 would be a strong one. Earnhardt will start 5th in the second heat of the 125's on Thursday. Always a strong favorite to win another 125, Earnhardt is just letting people know that the background rumblings of his eminent retirement might be a bit premature.

The other driver also making gains on the speed chart was Hendrick driver Terry Labonte in the #5 Kellogg's car. Labonte, who struggled early in the first practices of last week is rebounding with times that certainly make him a contender for Sunday's race.

The Twin 125's will determine the order of qualifying for positions 3-38. The remaining 5 positions of the 43 car field will be filled based on speed or provisional usage. For some people the 125's are every bit as exciting as the Daytona 500. The make or break attitude of the driver's is evident during the entire 50 laps of each race.

David Treffer -- The Auto Channel