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Irvan, Earnhardt win heats


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The skies cleared just long enough to run the Gatorade Twin 125-mile Qualifying races yesterday.

No one was surprised by the results, as Ernie Irvan and Dale Earnhardt won their heats.

Irvan and his Havoline Ford beat Rusty Wallace and the Miller Genuine Draft Ford to the finish line by .42 seconds, averaging 156.304 mph, in the first race.

And it was Earnhardt's GM Goodwrench Chevrolet out-dueling Sterling Marlin's Kodak Film Chevrolet by .1 second, averaging 146.771 mph.

The order of finish in yesterday's races determined the starting lineup for Sunday's Daytona 500.

Earnhardt's starting spot was already sewn up. He will be on the outside of the front row beside pole-sitter Loy Allen Jr.

Allen parked his car after 26 laps yesterday.

Irvan and Marlin will start in Row 2.

The second race was marred by a five-car accident that included Dale Jarrett, last season's Daytona 500 winner, who was forced to make the race as a provisional starter in the last row.

No driver error

NASCAR has retracted a statement made shortly after the crash that killed driver Neil Bonnett, attributing his death to "driver error."

"We don't know what caused either Neil's or Rodney Orr's accidents and may never know," NASCAR spokesman Andy Hall said. "We are continuing to investigate, but both of those cars were torn up so badly, there is no way of knowing if something broke."

NASCAR's reversal on its statement pleased car owner Richard Childress, who had given Bonnett the opportunity to return to racing, after Bonnett had worked as a test driver for him in 1992.

"I'm glad, but how many people will see the retraction," Childress said. "Once something is out there, it's out there. NASCAR's original statement was a poor choice of words.

"I can tell you what didn't happen. Neil Bonnett didn't lose the race car. Whatever happened to Neil was out of his control. I'd bet everything I own and my reputation on that.

"He could run a car 400 laps in the same tire tracks. He could tell if the car was off 25 rpm. He showed Dale [Earnhardt] where the bumps were on the track and helped us pick up several miles an hour. We came here and tested with Neil. He drove 3,000 miles here. We had him drive in high winds, in the worst conditions we could find, to figure out how our car would react.

"Neil Bonnett didn't lose the race car. No one may ever know what happened, but I know what didn't happen."

Headed home

Maryland driver Jimmy Hill and his Bell Motor Co.'s Chevrolet finished 22nd in yesterday's second qualifying race. He collected $2,400, but his finish was not good enough to make Sunday's Daytona 500.

Quarterback at work

Washington Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien, who owns the car driven by Chad Little, could gloat a little if he were so inclined. While former Redskins coach Joe Gibbs' team needed a provisional spot to make the field, Rypien's team earned a spot in the ninth row, with an eighth-place finish in the first qualifying race.

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