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NASCAR WCUP: Mike Skinner Tops Dale Jr. at the Line by Four-thousandth of a Second

Posted By Terry Callahan
Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start Sunday's Daytona 500 from the sixth position after he finished second in the Gatorade 125 qualifying race today at Daytona International Speedway. Earnhardt Jr. and Mike Skinner came off of turn four side-by-side on the final lap, with Skinner crossing the line four-thousandths of a second ahead of the No. 8 Budweiser car. Dale Jr. led the race twice for 19 laps, and there were a record 11 lead changes among nine drivers in the second of two qualifying races. The first 125-mile race was won by Sterling Marlin in a Dodge.

The Key Moment: Dale Jr. led the race easily until a crash on lap 35 with Tony Stewart and Elliott Sadler brought out the only yellow flag of the race. After a slow pit stop, Dale Jr. re-started in 10th with 10 laps to go. It took him only six laps to slice into the lead, and then he dropped back to fifth place with two laps to go before making his final attempt on the final lap.

Dale Jr. Quotes: "That was wild, man. You have NO idea! That was really exciting and really intense. The bottom (of the race track) was not really where I wanted to be, but Skinner blocked me going into turn three and the only place to go was the apron. Jeff Burton really helped me out (in the draft on the final lap). As we came off of turn four, I was about a half-a-car length ahead of Skinner. That gave him a small pocket of air and he got by me.

"No, I didn't think I had won. I figured he got me. It was just like the IROC race (where his father beat Dale Jr. by a similar margin). The car that is slightly behind out of the turn has an aerodynamic advantage. We weren't looking good with two laps to go. I thought a good finish was in jeopardy. But, this car really hauled up in there, and Burton really helped me. I was just happy to be in the middle of a really exciting finish. It was crazy.

I think we're looking real good (for Sunday's race). Our car is great - just like the car we had in the Budweiser Shootout (last Sunday). For a second-year team, these guys are great. I think the Bud team is stronger right now than the driver.

"I do think we should be one of the favorites to win - I've been talking trash for a while and talking about the dream I had (several weeks ago, Dale Jr. dreamed that he had won the 500). So, yeah, I think we should be considered one of the favorites."

Gatorade 125 Race Notes

Second is Best

The second-place finish is Dale Jr's career best finish at Daytona. His previous best had been two fourth-place finishes. (Gatorade 125, 2000 and 24 Hours of Daytona, 2001). Sixth place will also be his best Winston Cup start at Daytona. His previous best start had been 8th in the 2000 Daytona 500.

Ride of a Lifetime

Raymond Vliet of Wesley Chapel, FL will have the ride of his life Saturday afternoon as he will be in the passenger seat of a pace car driven around the Daytona Intl. Speedway by Dale Earnhardt. Vliet won a consumer promotion sponsored by Busch Beer, a product of Anheuser-Busch and the title sponsor of the NASCAR Busch Series. Dale Earnhardt has been a spokesman for Busch beer for many years.

Text Provided By Jade Gurss

Editors Note: To view hundreds of hot racing photos and art, visit The Racing Photo Museum and the Visions of Speed Art Gallery.