DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- As the Busch Clash came down to its final two laps yesterday afternoon, it looked like the kind of race Dale Earnhardt would win.
Make the race tight. Make it hard hitting. Put money on the line, run it at Daytona International Speedway and call it anything but the Daytona 500 and Earnhardt usually can be counted on to come home the winner.
Usually, but not this time.
This time it was Jeff Gordon who created a three-cars-abreast situation where there should have been two. It was Gordon's DuPont Chevrolet that emerged with the paint of other cars on its fenders.
And it was Gordon who bumped six-time Winston Cup champion Earnhardt from behind and barged his way to the front for a .3-second victory over Brett Bodine and Earnhardt, who finished third.
"You're on your own in this race," said Gordon, a second-year Winston Cup driver. "There are no friends, no one you can trust. They use you and you use them. All I did was keep my foot on the gas and went.
"I did have to give Earnhardt a little nudge off turn two, and it worked, because Brett [Bodine] went with me and that's why it worked.
"I'd call it a move out of desperation to win the race."
This is an all-star race. The field is composed of the drivers who earned the pole, the No. 1 starting spot, in races during the previous season.
Yesterday, 13 men competed in the 16th annual event that is run in two 10-lap segments. The winner of the first segment earns $25,000. The second segment is run with a reverse starting order, which means the winner of the first segment starts last and the last-place finisher starts first.
The winner of the second leg collects $45,000 and the distinction of being the race winner.
Earnhardt won the first leg with Ernie Irvan on his bumper. Gordon was fourth. When the second segment started, Irvan and Earnhardt charged from the back of the field to the front, with Irvan getting the lead in four laps and Earnhardt arriving in second on lap six.
"I should have been paying attention, but I was watching the cars so much and paying attention to them," said Earnhardt, who pulled alongside Irvan with two laps left. "I really wasn't focusing on what lap it was. I didn't realize there were just two laps left."
NOTES: The 20-lap Clash was run in 15 minutes, 53 seconds. fTC Gordon averaged 188.877 mph. There were six lead changes among seven drivers. The race was delayed by rain for 38 minutes, 35 seconds. . . . Mike Wallace, in his Chevrolet, averaged 110.024 mph and won the Arca 200 by two car lengths over Tim Steele and his Ford. The race was marred by eight caution flags. The most serious crash involved Mark Thompson, 42, of Cartersville, Ga. Thompson suffered a concussion, bruises from his shoulder straps and three broken ribs. He was listed in serious but stable condition and was being held overnight at Halifax Medical Center.