Originally created 02/07/98

NASCAR notes: Terry Labonte's Chevrolet fastest car in practice



DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- In the Winston Cup garage, men and women ran one way and another. Crews searched for speed.

Terry Labonte's Chevrolet sat wrapped in red covering.

"We're ready to qualify," Labonte said Friday during the final practice before pole qualifying for the Daytona 500, which begins today at 2 p.m. at Daytona International Speedway.

Labonte, one of three drivers on the Rick Hendrick-owned Chevy team, had the fastest lap Friday morning and again in the early afternoon.

The team opted not to practice in the third session on Friday.

"The five car (Labonte) has definitely been strong," said Steve Grissom, who started on the outside of Row 1 last year.

"I'd say if you take Terry out, any of a number of Ford, Chevy or Pontiac drivers could win the pole," said Mike Skinner, last year's pole winner, "but Terry's been so far ahead."

Labonte's fastest lap Friday was 192.193, nearly a 1.5 mph faster than the rest of the field.

The fastest two qualifiers today will start on the front row for the Daytona 500, which is Feb. 15. The rest of the 500's field will be decided in two Twin 125-mile qualifying races Thursday.

"This is a little quicker than we thought we'd be," Labonte said. "We had a good test down here and went to Talladega amd tested for three days this past weekend.

"We made two runs, changed engines and made another run. We're afraid to run anymore. We might mess something up."

RAIN A PAIN:

Forecasts call for a 30 percent chance of rain today with pole qualifying scheduled for 2 p.m.

Qualifying must be held before it gets dark.

If qualifying is not held today, it will be held either Sunday or Monday, although Sunday is unlikely. With the Bud Shootout scheduled for 11 a.m. and an ARCA race scheduled for 1:15, qualifying would have to begin before 9 a.m.

"We won't meet on that until it rains," Story said. "There's no contingency plan. If we get rained out, we'll decide then whether to hold it Sunday or Monday."

QUICK, QUICK, QUICK:

The Winston Cup car with the best practice lap other than Labonte and Rusty Wallace on Friday: Skinner (Chevy, 190.428).

Other top speeds: Derrike Cope (Pontiac, 190.355), Jimmy Spencer (Ford, 190.299), Greg Sacks (Ford, 190.138), Jeff Gordon (Chevy, 189.958) and Dick Trickle (Ford, 189.869), John Andretti (Pontiac, 189.841), Lake Speed (Pontiac, 189.641) and Dale Earnhardt (Chevy, 189.749).

UNDER THE LIGHTS:

Earnhardt, a seven-time Winston Cup champion who will drive his 20th Daytona 500 next Sunday, will be the first driver to run laps under the new lights at Daytona International Speedway.

Earnhardt will drive 20 laps at 6:30 p.m. today in a ceremony free to the public. Earnhardt never has won the 500.

GO, GO JOE:

Credit owner Felix Sabates with being confident.

Sabates this season expanded his team from one to three drivers, with one being Joe Nemechek. Nemechek, who ran 30 races with Sabates last season, has 12 top 10 finishes in 122 Winston Cup stars, but Sabates said he thinks that will change this year.

"He's never won much of anything, but he's shown great promise in the second half of last year," Sabates said. "He's more focused than anybody I've ever seen in my life. I've made a prediction. If he gets on a streak, he can win five or six races."

Nemechek had three top 10 finishes in the last 10 races last season.

BAIRD STILL IN:

Bill Baird, who won the pole for Sunday's ARCA 200, was questionable after his mother, Millie, reportedly suffered a stroke Thursday night at her home in Sturgis, Ky.

Baird flew home Friday to be with his mother. He was expected to be back in time for the race, but Randy LaJoie, the two-time defending NASCAR Busch Grand National champion, agreed to help with the race set-up for the team's Chevrolet.

If LaJoie winds up starting in the car, he would have to start from the rear of the 42-car field.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.