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Stepping to Daytona 'plate,' Waltrip hopes to go 3-for-3

THE BALTIMORE SUN

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Tonight's Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway amounts to an unfinished NASCAR tag-team match from February's Daytona 500.

Michael Waltrip won it, and is also defending champion of last July's 400. So he'll go for three straight, trying to tie Cale Yarborough's 35-year-old record for consecutive major wins at Daytona.

Restrictor-plate racing requires drafting teamwork, and Waltrip and DEI Chevrolet teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. have been the masters of it in recent years. Between them they have won four of the past five races at Daytona, and eight of the past 10 "plate races," including Earnhardt's four in a row at Talladega.

But the February race was called due to rain before two other Chevrolet drafting tandems - Kevin Harvick and Robby Gordon of Richard Childress Racing, and Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson of Hendrick Motorsports - felt they had taken their best shots.

For the winning pass, Earnhardt towed Waltrip past Johnson, who was flying solo because Jeff Gordon hadn't quite connected with Johnson in the draft. And Harvick and Robby Gordon were just getting ready to mount their strongest challenge when the rain set in.

A third RCR car, driven by hard-luck Steve Park, will start on the pole, with Harvick alongside. Jeff Gordon will start third, Earnhardt fifth and Waltrip sixth. Robby Gordon will start 18th due to qualifying glitches, but should have little trouble finding Harvick.

Sterling Marlin in a Dodge will start highest among non-Chevy drivers, fourth.

Ed Hinton is a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Tonight's lineup

Race distance: 400 miles, 160 laps 1. (30) Steve Park, Chevrolet, 184.752 mph

2. (29) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 184.642

3. (24) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 184.498

4. (40) Sterling Marlin, Dodge, 184.411

5. (8) Dale Earnhardt Jr, Chevrolet, 184.381

6. (15) Michael Waltrip, Chevrolet, 184.287

7. (49) Ken Schrader, Dodge, 184.241

8. (42) Jamie McMurray, Dodge, 184.173

9. (38) Elliott Sadler, Ford, 184.113

10. (19) Jeremy Mayfield, Dodge, 183.951

11. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 183.925

12. (41) Casey Mears, Dodge, 183.643

13. (20) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 183.617

14. (9) Bill Elliott, Dodge, 183.561

15. (18) Bobby Labonte, Chevrolet, 183.389

16. (88) Dale Jarrett, Ford, 183.329

17. (32) Ricky Craven, Pontiac, 183.258

18. (31) Robby Gordon, Chevrolet, 183.173

19. (09) Buckshot Jones, Dodge, 183.068

20. (25) Joe Nemechek, Chevrolet, 183.064

21. (60) David Green, Chevrolet, 183.053

22. (10) Johnny Benson, Pontiac, 183.046

23. (01) Mike Wallace, Pontiac, 182.986

24. (12) Ryan Newman, Dodge, 182.867

25. (5) Terry Labonte, Chevrolet, 182.856

26. (14) Larry Foyt, Dodge, 182.838

27. (21) Ricky Rudd, Ford, 182.789

28. (22) Ward Burton, Dodge, 182.689

29. (23) Kenny Wallace, Dodge, 182.678

30. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 182.541

31. (97) Kurt Busch, Ford, 182.511

32. (80) Mike Bliss, Chevrolet, 182.508

33. (6) Mark Martin, Ford, 182.463

34. (1) Jeff Green, Chevrolet, 182.441

35. (0) Jack Sprague, Pontiac, 182.437

36. (99) Jeff Burton, Ford, 182.035

37. (17) Matt Kenseth, Ford, provisional.

38. (2) Rusty Wallace, Dodge, provisional.

39. (77) Dave Blaney, Ford, provisional.

40. (7) Jimmy Spencer, Dodge, provisional.

41. (54) Todd Bodine, Ford, provisional.

42. (45) Kyle Petty, Dodge, provisional.

43. (4) Stacy Compton, Pontiac, provisional.

Failed to qualify 44. (83) Kerry Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 181.745

45. (74) Tony Raines, Chevrolet, 181.726

46. (43) Shane Hmiel, Dodge, 180.883

47. (44) Christian Fittipaldi, Dodge, 180.727

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