DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- All anyone could do was watch and marvel as seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt gave another demonstration of his talent in the Busch Clash.
Oh, he tried to play it cool.
"I aimed the car and it didn't hit nothing," he said.
But everyone knew what he was seeing.
It was another demonstration of the man's skill, of his tenacity and of his unmatched dominance at Daytona International Speedway. Yesterday's victory in the Busch Clash was his sixth in nine Busch races. No one else has won the Busch Clash more than twice.
Starting at the back of the field in the second of the two segments that make up the Clash, the all-star race for last season's pole winners, Earnhardt took just a lap and a half to pass every other car and take the lead, which he held without challenge to the finish.
And at the finish, Earnhardt collected $45,000.
"I was fortunate to get up through the field," said Earnhardt. "I was lucky to have Sterling Marlin drafting with me. We went right by everybody. I just felt like I wanted to be in the front."
It is tradition here. Earnhardt dominates every race at Daytona, except the one he wants to win most, the Daytona 500, the biggest race of the Winston Cup season. Yesterday's victory was his 28th overall on this 2.5-mile tri-oval.
It makes no difference what car he is driving or how long it has been in use. Last season he was driving the Lumina that had been in service since 1990. This season, he is driving a Monte Carlo that was in a race for the first time.
"All the work we did on this car in the last off-season, and all the work Neil [Bonnett] did on it when he started testing it for us two years ago, has paid off," Earnhardt said. "We qualified second for the Daytona 500, and we ran this race strong."
The Busch Clash is run in two 10-lap segments. The first segment pays $25,000. The second segment pays $45,000. The second segment is started in reverse order of the first segment's finish.
Jeff Gordon didn't want to be in front at the end of the first segment. But when Earnhardt's GM Goodwrench Chevrolet got loose in the second corner with a lap to go, Gordon had no choice.
"Dale and I had talked before the race," said Gordon. "We were going to help each other out, but I think Dale wanted to win both segments. I wanted to win the big segment, the second one. So I wanted to finish behind Dale in the first race so I could start ahead of him in the second. I was hoping if I was in front of him, he'd push me to the front.
"Nobody was going to pass Dale," Gordon added. "But he got real loose in the second turn and I had to go."
Gordon collected the $25,000 payoff for being the leader at the halfway point, but he was behind Earnhardt when the second segment started and couldn't keep pace with the Earnhardt/Marlin tandem.
And when he did make it to the front, he found the cars of Marlin and Bill Elliott between his DuPont Chevrolet and Earnhardt.
"The guy out front definitely has the advantage," said Gordon. "I think Sterling and I might have been able to catch and pass Dale on that last lap, but I couldn't get past Elliott, even though I was faster than he was. I needed someone behind me to draft along, and there wasn't anyone behind me."
And Earnhardt was in front, where he almost always is.
NOTES: The race was run in 15 minutes, 55 seconds at an average speed of 188.482 mph. . . . Earnhardt's margin of victory was .08 seconds over Marlin. . . . There were five lead changes among three drivers. . . . The total purse of $340,000 was split among the 16 starters, 14 pole winners and two wild cards.
1. (5) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 10, $25,000. 2. (9) Sterling Marlin, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 10, $17,500. 3. (2) Dale Earnhardt, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 10, $12,500. 4. (10) Bill Elliott, Ford Thunderbird, 10, $9,000. 5. (3) Ted Musgrave, Ford Thunderbird, 10, $7,000. 6. (6) Todd Bodine, Ford Thunderbird, 10, $6,000. 7. (4) Jimmy Spencer, Ford Thunderbird, 10, $5,500. 8. (15) Rusty Wallace, Ford Thunderbird, 10, $5,000. 9. (13) Ricky Rudd, Ford Thunderbird, 10, $4,500. 10. (1) Geoff Bodine, Ford Thunderbird, 10, $4,000.
11. (12) Rick Mast, Ford Thunderbird, 10, $4,000. 12. (11) Ward Burton, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 10, $4,000. 13. (16) David Green, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 10, $4,000. 14. (7) Loy Allen Jr., Ford Thunderbird, 8, $4,000. 15. (8) Greg Sacks, Pontiac Grand Prix, 0, crash, $4,000. 16. (14) Mark Martin, Ford Thunderbird, 0, crash, $4,000.
(Total money in parentheses)
1. (9) Earnhardt, 10, $45,000 ($57,500), 188.482. 2. (12) Marlin, 10, $25,000 ($42,500). 3. (10) Elliott, 10, $20,000 ($29,000). 4. (11) Gordon, 10, $17,000 ($42,000). 5. (8) T.Bodine, 10, $12,000 ($18,000). 6. (3) Rudd, 10, $8,000 ($12,500). 7. (7) Musgrave, 10, $7,500 ($14,500). 8. (6) Wallace, 10, $7,000 ($12,000). 9. (5) Spencer, 10, $6,500 ($12,000). 10. (1) Mast, 10, $6,000 ($10,000).
11. (2) Burton, 10, $6,000 ($10,000). 12. (4) G.Bodine, 10, $6,000 ($10,000). 13. (13) Green, 10, $6,000 ($10,000). 14. (14) Allen, 10, $6,000 ($10,000). 15. (DNS) Sacks, 0, $6,000 ($10,000). 16. (DNS) Martin, 0, $6,000 ($10,000).
Time of race: 15:55. Margin of victory: 0.08 seconds (about two car lengths). Caution flags: Do not count. Lead changes: Five among three drivers. Lap leaders: Earnhardt 1-9; Gordon 10; Rudd 11; Earnhardt 12-20.