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Archive for Saturday, February 22, 2003

NASCAR defends decision at soggy Daytona 500

February 22, 2003

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— Fans and drivers weren't the only ones disappointed with the rain-shortened Daytona 500.

As it turns out, NASCAR also wasn't thrilled with the early end to its biggest race.

"It's our Super Bowl, too, and the way it ended was personally disappointing to me," Winston Cup director John Darby said Friday. "After watching the race that long, it had just reached a point where it was all starting to come together and was about to get interesting."

Michael Waltrip won Sunday's race when NASCAR called it after a second hour-long rain delay. The event ended 91 laps short of its scheduled 200.

Waltrip had no qualms about winning that way, but there was grumbling from others in the field.

Because 109 laps had been completed, the race had passed the halfway point and was considered an official event. With no evidence that the rain would let up, NASCAR officials determined it would be impossible to resume Sunday.

Coming back Monday to finish it was not considered an option because the event was already official.

"The general practice that we've always been pretty solid about, that's no big secret and is not going to change, is that if we get past halfway and you can't complete it that day -- that's it," NASCAR president Mike Helton said.

Darby said NASCAR made the only decision it could, based on the rule book.

"As bitter and disappointing as it might seem, our decision is in black and white," he said. "If we make an exception because it is the Daytona 500, then later in the season when we are in the middle of 20-straight weeks of racing, we've opened up a can of worms when we try to come back on a Monday to finish a race that is already official."

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Wild week: Rain helped Michael Waltrip win the Daytona 500, but the weather wouldn't cooperate at North Carolina Speedway.

Exhausted from the weeklong activities surrounding his victory, Waltrip did his second-best rain dance Friday, hoping for a washout of qualifying for the Subway 400.

The rain came early, but didn't hold up, and Waltrip didn't get any free time to take a nap.

"I really just wanted to sleep the day away," he said. "But the rain wouldn't help me today."

NASCAR sends the Daytona 500 winner on an exhaustive publicity campaign in the days after the race. He enjoyed it, but Waltrip said the most fulfilling moments came with friends and family after the race.

He and teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. celebrated the night of the race with car owner Teresa Earnhardt on the late Dale Earnhardt's boat "Sunday Money." The next morning, Waltrip and his team went to Daytona USA and inducted the winning car into the museum.

"It was really fun for me and Dale Jr. to sit around with Teresa and laugh at how many Daytona races we've won," Waltrip said. "Then it was great to party with the team at Daytona USA. Neither of those are that big of a deal, but I really enjoyed them."

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Feeling good: Jason Keller was back behind the wheel of his Busch series car despite lingering soreness from a fiery accident at Daytona. Keller suffered amnesia in the accident last Saturday, even though he didn't black out or suffer a concussion, and can't recall several minutes after the wreck. Keller starts fifth in today's Busch race at North Carolina Speedway.

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