Colorful Baker predicts Earnhardt victory; CBS commentator says '98 champ's 'conniving' can help produce repeat; Daytona 500


CBS color commentator Buddy Baker, 58, won the 1980 Daytona 500 and holds the record for the fastest race in the event's history, at 177.602 mph. Here, in his own inimitable way, he handicaps this year's race, speaking to Sun reporter Sandra McKee.

Jeff Gordon is everybody's pick and he's certainly fast. But I think there are a couple other guys who could win.

Mark Martin is in the best position he's ever been in and he keeps a good, clean car and doesn't make mistakes. He's got a fast pit crew that showed what it can do in the Bud Shootout [which Martin won].

But my favorite and pick for the 500 is Dale Earnhardt. I pick Dale every year and he's only won once. But he's conniving enough to win again. He has a tremendous amount of respect from the people he has to race with. They don't do to him what they do to others. They don't cut him off, because they know he'll put sheet metal to 'em. He's that throwback to those who ran years back.

I think when the race starts everyone has an arrow pointing up, with a responsibility to make it [their cars] go to the front. I know people talk about strategy and patience. But, I tell you what, I never got a check for strategy or patience. If the door opens, you always go through it.

I don't think the car model matters either. Chevrolet, Pontiac, Ford? It's the people who own the cars and work on the cars and drive the cars that matter. You have to use a lot of intelligence. Tony Stewart's a rookie with a lot of racing experience. He could win, but in actuality, he won't.

He's never driven a stock car 500 miles before. I think he's smart enough, but it's not making mistakes. It's not making the bad call in the pits. It's picking the right guy to draft with. Those are the things that are going to decide the 500.

Through 490 laps, each of these guys have to pick a drafting partner, someone to travel nose-to-tail with on the race track and to pit with. Someone to pass with, and there will be passing. These little races we saw this week with half a field or less isn't the same as a 43-car field. There will be passing, and then over the last 10 or 12 laps there'll come a shootout.

With 10 laps to go, all deals are off. With 10 laps left, the only people who like you are in the pits or watching you on TV. I always told people when I was racing, 'With 10 laps to go, I'll try to win at all costs' and most everyone out there Sunday will, too.

Pub Date: 2/14/99

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