Archive for Sunday, February 15, 2004

Rain puts Earnhardt’s bid on hold

Busch race suspended until Monday after 31 of scheduled 120 laps are completed

February 15, 2004

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— Everything was on schedule Saturday for heavy favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. until the rain came.

The wet weather halted the Hershey's Kisses 300 Busch Series race with Earnhardt, going after his third consecutive win in the event, leading after 31 of the scheduled 120 laps.

The remainder of the race will be run Monday, beginning at 10 a.m. The cars will be impounded by NASCAR and no changes will be allowed until after racing resumes.

Earnhardt, who also is the favorite in today's Daytona 500 Nextel Cup race, started eighth in the Busch event and steadily worked his way to the front, taking the lead on lap 11 at Daytona International Speedway.

Robby Gordon and Johnny Sauter followed Earnhardt to the front Saturday, kicking previous leader Kevin Harvick to fourth.

On the next trip around the 21/2-mile oval, Mike Bliss lost control coming off turn two while sandwiched between two other cars. Bliss slid into Wally Dallenbach, the two slammed into the wall and then bounced off, starting a wild melee.

A number of cars dodged the accident, but those driven by rookie Paul Menard, Kasey Kahne, Johnny Benson, Joe Nemechek and C.W. Smith were damaged.

Michael Waltrip, who crashed during practice Friday and had to start from the rear of the 43-car field in a backup car, stayed on track when the leaders pitted and took the top spot.

But rain started to fall, extending the caution. Waltrip eventually pitted on lap 24, giving the lead back to Earnhardt just before the red flag came out. Gordon remained second, followed by Mike Wallace, 18-year-old rookie Kyle Busch and Ron Hornaday Jr.

Martin Truex Jr., who drives for Chance 2 Motorsports, owned by Earnhardt and his stepmother, Teresa Earnhardt, started from the pole but slipped back into the field after leading only the first lap. He was 13th when the race was stopped.

NASCAR waited three hours and 20 minutes before announcing the postponement, the first for the Daytona Busch race since its first running in 1959.

According to the National Weather Service in Melbourne, Fla., the forecast called for a 40 percent chance of showers this morning, with the rain expected to end by noon. Monday's forecast called for dry conditions.

Robbie Reiser, crew chief for reigning Cup champion Matt Kenseth, said the rain would wash rubber off the track and change the way the cars handled today and Monday.

"Tire wear will be worse than it's been all week because we have no rubber on the track, so it's going to have some effect," said Reiser, whose driver will start 12th today and will be 18th when the Busch race is resumed.

But Reiser added that all the practice time during the past week would help negate some of the problems.

"The good thing is everybody's in the same boat," he said.

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