DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 14, 2008) – Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Denny Hamlin both secured second-row starting positions for Sunday’s 50th running of the Daytona 500 by winning their respective Gatorade Duel at Daytona 150-mile qualifying races.
Earnhardt Jr. continued his flawless start with his new No. 88 AMP/National Guard Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet posting his second victory of DIRECTV Speedweeks during the first Gatorade Duel.
Denny Hamlin, who took the lead for the first time with two laps to go, won the second Gatorade Duel, which was red-flagged twice for debris on the track. The final red flag was brought out on Lap 60, the final lap, setting up a green-white-checker finish.
Earnhardt Jr. was scheduled to start the first Gatorade Duel from the fifth position, but had to drop to the back of the field due to an engine change. Six other drivers also changed engines and dropped to the back of the field, including two of Earnhardt Jr.’s Hendrick Motorsports teammates Casey Mears and Daytona 500 pole-sitter Jimmie Johnson.
“I have to thank the engine guys,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “We had a little problem yesterday and they worked overnight to really get us the package that was durable and also competitive. I’m just going to try to do whatever I can to win (the Daytona 500). It’s going to be hard to win it, but it’s going to be hard for everybody.”
Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota, is the first driver to take a Toyota to Gatorade Victory Lane at Daytona International Speedway in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He was followed across the finish line by Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Tony Stewart.
“We definitely had a very strong car,” Hamlin said. “(Tony and I) just made the moves there at the end that we had to make to ensure that one of the two of us was going to get the win.”
Eight drivers from the first qualifying race, and seven from the second, had to race their way into the 50th running of the Daytona 500. Of those 15 drivers, four were able to do so – Kenny Wallace, Brian Vickers, John Andretti and Dale Jarrett. Kurt Busch, the 2004 Sprint Cup champion, completed only nine laps due to electrical problems, but will be awarded the past champion’s provisional.
Three-time Daytona 500 champion Dale Jarrett, who is running a limited schedule before retiring, ws relived to make the field for his final Daytona 500 start.
“It is very gratifying, personally,” Jarrett said. “To know that you have to go out there and what you have to do to be able to take the car and put it up in the top five and run there. When it comes time to get this done, yeah, I enjoy the challenge and feel very good about what we were able to accomplish.
“When the checkered flag fell I saw those guys coming hard there at the end. I was trying to be aggressive enough. I was wide open. I never lifted those last two laps.”
Also of note, neither Ken Schrader nor the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford, with driver Bill Elliott, will be starting in the 50th running of the Daytona 500. This marks the first time since Schrader made his inaugural start back in 1985 that he will not be in the “Great American Race”. It will also be only the third time in the history of the Daytona 500 that the Wood Brothers will not have an entry. The other two years were 1960 and 1962.
“The Daytona 500 is just not another race,” Wood Brothers Racing co-owner Eddie Wood said. “To me, it’s bigger than the Indy 500 and all that. The Tuesday that we had off, you know that lighthouse…where they used to turn left on the beach? I went down there. I was sitting there in the street and I knew that they turned left there and went across
and came back up the other side. I didn’t know which street it was, so I called my dad (Glen Wood). I said, ‘Which street was it that was Turn 1?’ And he said, ‘It was Peach Street.’ I looked up and that’s where I was. I left there, and I’m getting ready to pull out, and I look over, and there’s Richard Petty. He was there, too. That’s what the Daytona 500 is.”
DIRECTV Speedweeks will culminate with the 50th Running of the Daytona 500 this Sunday, February 17th. The 24 living Daytona 500 champions will come together to serve as Grand Marshals for the most storied and prestigious race in motorsports.
Tickets for DIRECTV Speedweeks events are available online at www.racetickets.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.
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