Gerhart and Robinson get on track in 200; Pa. racer gets first win; top run by woman matched; Daytona notebook


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The 36th annual FIRSTPLUS Financial ARCA 200 was a wild affair. The race produced a first-time winner, matched the highest finish by a woman in a modern-day stock car race and included a pace car accident.

Bobby Gerhart, 40, won his first race yesterday in his 113th start dating to 1988. The Lebanon, Pa., resident averaged 188.178 in his Chevrolet, beating Shawna Robinson, who was closing fast, when the caution came out forcing the race to finish under yellow.

"We absolutely could have won," said Robinson, who was returning from a three-year layoff. "No question about it. I could have gotten around Bobby Gerhart. But I would have taken Bobby Hamilton Jr. with me, and that would have been a battle. We just didn't have enough laps.

"When the yellow came out, they said, 'Go get him,' but I had already backed off so much that I lost so much momentum."

In 1988, Karen Schulz finished second in an ARCA race.

Earlier in yesterday's race, pace car driver Jack Wallace was injured after he failed to pick up the leader and was rammed from behind by Joe Cooksey, who was hurrying to catch up to the back of the field.

"I tried to stop," Cooksey said. "I couldn't miss him. I'm just sorry that it happened. I hate to see people who are not racing to be involved in a wreck. This might be the first time in the history of racing that the pace car has been wiped out in an accident. It was a pretty good lick, right square in the rear end. Then both of our cars slid down to the apron."

Wallace, complaining of a stiff neck and wearing a neck brace, was taken to Halifax Medical Center for evaluation.

Presence missing

Usually, Marylanders can root for one of their own in this race, but Brandywine resident Donnie Neuenberger did not qualify for the race this time. His Cofab Steel Ford failed to complete a qualifying lap.

Gibbs' day of trauma

Sitting in his motor home here yesterday, car owner Joe Gibbs talked about his "most traumatic day" with his four racing teams.

He had flown to Pomona, Calif., on Friday to begin the drag racing season and watch his two cars qualify. Top Fuel driver Cory McClenathan shocked his owner with a dramatic run of 4.63 on the first round. But his Funny Car driver, Cruz Pedregon, failed to qualify.

Gibbs took the redeye back to Daytona, only to get a call Saturday telling him that McClenathan had been taken to the hospital throwing up blood and that Pedregon's funny car had blown up and failed to qualify.

"Then, I get here and [Bobby's Labonte's] car, the car that sat on the pole last year, won't run," Gibbs said. "And then, Tony [Stewart] won the pole [for the Daytona 500]. I've never had a day like that. My emotions were all over the charts."

Gibbs was feeling much better yesterday evening, when he saw Labonte's performance in one of his team's new cars. Labonte will be in a similar car Thursday, when he attempts to earn a qualifying spot for Sunday's 500.

Sending a message

Mike Skinner has been giving hints about what might happen later this week.

On Saturday, Skinner didn't win the pole for the Daytona 500, but he wasn't too far off with a fourth-place run of 194.536.

Yesterday, he won the Bud Shootout qualifying race to earn a chance to compete with the all-star pole-sitters. And in that all-star race, he came from last to finish fourth there, too.

"We had an awfully strong race car," Skinner said of his Richard Childress-owned Chevrolet. "And the motor was super. It would be hard for me to be more optimistic [about the 500]. But I want to be careful, and I don't want to get too overconfident. Sometimes that will bite you. I still lack a lot of experience in the draft, but every lap I run I get a little more experience."

And, it seems, every lap he runs he gets a little more of a threat.

Pub Date: 2/08/99

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