Retiring Petty honored, then finishes 16th


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- It's the first time anyone ever started the Daytona 500 by telling the men sitting in their silent race cars:

"OK, guys, let's go. Crank 'em up."

But that's exactly what Richard Petty said yesterday, as he gave the command to his fellow competitors to start their engines.

He then led the field on a ceremonial pace lap, in honor of his 34th and last appearance in this race. He then dropped back to his 32nd starting position.

Petty has announced this is his last season on the Winston Cup tour as a driver.

Petty's dropping back was a relief to Ken Schrader. During the drivers meeting before the race, Petty had asked for a two-lap head start. It was denied. Then Schrader asked if Petty understood that he had to start in his qualifying spot.

"I ain't making no promises," Petty said with a grin.

Petty has started every Daytona 500. Yesterday, he finished 16th, despite being involved in a 14-car crash on Lap 93 that took out most of the top competitors.

"I'm disappointed," he said. "I felt really good while we were out there running, but I got hit from behind in that wreck. I don't think, under the circumstances, anyone could have done better in my car today. I guess, if I can say that, I can feel satisfied with the race."

* Who was the guy giving driver Chad Little water during pit stops?

Washington Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien.

"I'm having a blast," said Rypien, who knew Little in college. "This is going to make me a real race fan. It's the first time I've competed against Coach Gibbs [Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, who owns the Interstate Batteries car driven by Dale Jarrett].

"I brought Chad up to the Super Bowl and I'm able to come down here and be on his pit crew. What a thrill. A lot of people in life don't get a chance to experience this. But, believe me, I'm not going over the wall to service the car. When the cars come down pit road fast, I drop back."

* If the adage -- win on Sunday, sell on Monday -- holds up, Ford dealers are going to be busy today. The top four finishers in yesterday's race were driving Ford Thunderbirds.

* "What can I say?" said Dale Earnhardt, who has yet to win here in 14 tries. "We'll try again next year. There's always next year. This was just one of those days. It seems I have them here on Sundays in February."

Earnhardt, who finished ninth, one lap down, had troubles from the beginning. First, his car wouldn't handle, which surprised him, since it had ran well in practice. Then he got tangled up in the accident on Lap 93.

"You can't figure it," he said. "It wasn't a bad finish, considering we got in a wreck -- or a sea gull or a tire or something, three years in a row. I don't know what to say. Daytona Blues, I reckon."

* Bill Elliott, who seemed to be minding his own business in the top groove on Lap 93 before Sterling Marlin and Ernie Irvan tried to take the lead from him, was gracious after being knocked out of the race.

"The accident was a combination of all three [cars]," he said. "Sterling was in the middle and got caught. . . . I got turned inside and Irvan got turned outside. . . . I don't know how you can blame anybody."

Elliott and Marlin, his Junior Johnson teammate, started in the front row with two of the strongest cars in the race. Thanks to the wreck, they finished 27th and 35th, respectively.

* After the accident, 20 of the top 21 drivers running on Lap 100 had never won the Daytona 500.

* Eight of the top 25 finishers were 50 years old or older.

* Update on drivers injured in Saturday's Goody's 300 Grand National race: Robert Huffman, who suffered burns on his face, neck and left arm, was being kept last night for a second night at Halifax Medical Center; Jimmy Hensley, who suffered minor fracture in his foot, fractured ribs and blood pressure problems, was treated and released; and Joe Nemechek, who had slight burns on his back, was treated and released.

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