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Racing into the 500

Gatorade Twin 125s are the best way in for most cars

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Posted: Thursday February 15, 2001 11:13 AM

  Terry Labonte Terry Labonte is hoping to earn a spot in Sunday's Daytona 500 during Thursday's Gatorade Twin 125s. Craig Jones/Allsport

By John Donovan, CNNSI.com

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- It's just 50 laps, which isn't all that much in the grand scheme of car racing things. But for the majority of Winston Cup drivers here for the Daytona 500, the Twin 125s qualifiers Thursday at Daytona International Speedway mean a lot more than just a few laps around the track.

The two races are a way -- the only way for some -- into the 43-car field for Sunday's big race. They are a chance to see how the cars they've worked so hard on over the winter fare in real racing conditions.

The Gatorade Twin 125s are, in effect, the last big quiz before the final. And a flunking grade Thursday could mean -- depending on qualifying speeds -- you don't even get to take the final.

"[Thursday] is going to be a good test for us," Terry Labonte said Wednesday. Labonte will run his No. 5 Chevrolet Monte Carlo in the second of the two races. The first begins at noon EST. "We can run out here and run good for 10 or 15 laps, tomorrow's 50 laps will give us a really good indication of what we're going to have Sunday."

No Worries
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Kyle Petty likes his chances in the Gatorade Twin 125s.
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  • The first two spots for Sunday's 500 were grabbed by Bill Elliott and Stacy Compton, who had the best times in qualifying last Saturday. The next 28 will be determined Thursday.

    The top 14 from the first 125 race -- not counting Elliott -- will be dropped behind him on the inside in the starting order for the 500. The top 14 from the second race -- not counting Compton -- line up behind Compton on the outside for the 500.

    Those who don't finish in the top 14 in the race -- there are 26 cars in each race -- still have a chance to make the field. That's when the qualifying times they ran Saturday (eight cars did another run Monday) come into play.

    But no driver wants it to come to that. As it is, with 52 cars going after 43 spots, not everybody will be in the starting lineup come Sunday.

    The game
    NASCAR officials sidestepped questions about how cars fared in the big wind tunnel tests after Sunday's Budweiser Shootout. Word is the Fords are at a definite disadvantage. NASCAR officials are not likely to do anything before Sunday's race. But it's possible. On Thursday, they modified the spoilers on the Truck Series effective for Friday's big race.

    Busch rush
    If pure speed is what you're after, go with the non-restrictor plate race series, the Busch Series. After qualifying Wednesday for Saturday's NAPA Auto Parts 300, it's clear that these cars can fly. Whether Saturday's race will be as competitive as the Daytona 500 is supposed to be remains to be seen. But it clearly could be faster.

    The fans
    Daytona Beach restaurants are opening early for breakfast and doing bang-up business at night. The sidewalks outside Daytona International Speedway are getting crowded. The infield and the stands inside are starting to fill up. The weekend nears. Anyone for a Bud?

    Joe Nemechek
    He's one of a few stock-car drivers who can straddle both the Busch Series and Winston Cup and be competitive in both. He won the pole for Saturday's NAPA race, and qualified with the ninth-fastest time for Sunday's 500. And, he says, as long as he can race both series, he will.

    The Twin 125s To many people, this really kicks off the week.
    Busch Series We're suckers for little guys who try hard.
    NASCAR officials They're at least appearing to play it down the middle.
    Ford fanatics We get it. You think it's unfair. Point taken, already.
    Pontiacs Dodge who? What about the Busch Series' Pontiacs?

    If you can't make the top 14 in one of the Twin 125s on Thursday, the fact is you probably don't deserve to get into the Daytona 500. When the races are finished Thursday, though, there will be a handful of drivers hoping to make it anyway. That's why everybody says you have to race your way into the 500. Otherwise, there are no guarantees.


     
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