DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Kenny Irwin sent two messages Sunday.
One was Robert Yates Racing is back.
The other is maybe he isn't such a bad driver after all.
Irwin, who struggled through a difficult rookie season last season, overcame a 16th-place finish in a 125-mile qualifying race Thursday to finish third in the Daytona 500 on Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.
The finish was the best at Daytona for the Texaco-sponsored, Robert Yates-owned Ford team since 1994, when Ernie Irvan finished second behind Sterling Marlin.
The late Davey Allison won the 1992 500 for Yates.
"Obviously, Davey Allison and Robert Yates created a great thing 10 or 11 years ago when Texaco and they all got together," Irwin said. "To get the 28 car back up front, and to all the fans that supported me when I got in the 28, it's nice to kind of give that back to them."
Irwin, who raced open-wheel cars before signing with Yates last season, had just one Top-5 finish last season, but won the pole for the final race in Atlanta, something he said gave him confidence entering this season.
Thursday, however, Irwin struggled to a 16th-place finish in the qualifier. He made the 500 field on a provisional starting spot based on last season's point standings.
"We felt like we had a very good race car, and we finished 16th," Irwin said. "We cameback and we said, `What do we need to do?' We made very minor changes, really, to the car."
MILLION DOLLAR MAN: Someone find Ray Grimm a lawyer and an accountant -- and not necessarily in that order.
A correctional officer from Hagerstown, Md., Grimm won $1 million as part of Winston's No Bull 5 campaign. Grimm, 46, was one of five fans from across the nation entered in the promotion, and each fan was given a driver as their partner.
If their driver won, they won $1 million. The problem: Grimm and the other four fans made a pre-race deal, agreeing to share the money if any of the five's drivers won, even though Grimm had the prohibitive favorite and NASCAR's most dominant driver on his side.
Three of the other five drivers -- Dale Jarrett, Jimmy Spencer and Terry Labonte -- didn't finish the race. Jeremy Mayfield was 19th.
"We did make a deal and I'll come through with the promise," Grimm said afterward. "We did make a pact."
No word yet on how the booty will be split -- or if the verbal deal has any loopholes.
HEAVY HANDED: Irwin wanted to get one thing straight shortly after Sunday's race: He didn't intentionally take teammate Jarrett out of the race.
He did, however, ignite the largest accident of the race, one that claimed 12 cars. Irwin, a Yates Racing teammate of Jarrett, nudged Jarrett from behind as a group of cars were going into Turn 3, touching off a wild wreck that eliminated the top cars of Jarrett, Terry Labonte and Sterling Marlin.
Irwin wound up finding his way back to the front and finished third. All the talk, though, was centered on the wreck.
"I feel very bad about it," Irwin said. "If I could have not made it happen, I would have not made it happen."
QUICK START: More than 90 laps and nearly 60 minutes -- and no caution. This is NASCAR excitement?
The Great American Race was the Great American Bore for almost half of the race, and threatened to go caution-free for only the fourth time in history. Leave it to a Wallace -- Rusty, Kenny or Mike -- who seemingly always have problems at Daytona, to snap the 96-lap caution-free streak.
Kenny Wallace's Chevy Monte Carlo began smoking on Lap 96 and led to the lead pack pitting. The last time the Daytona 500 went caution-free was 1962, when legendary Fireball Roberts won in a Pontiac.
The race has gone caution-free three times: 1959 (Lee Petty), 1961 (Marvin Panch) and 1962. After 84 laps Sunday, the pace of the race (185 mph) was nearly 10 mph faster than the race record of 177.
SAY WHAT?: Michael Waltrip continues to perform well in the Daytona 500, and finished fifth Sunday in the Phillips Chevy.
Waltrip, who has four top 10s in the last five years at the 500, was as impressive with his post-race comments on Gordon's move to pass leader Rusty Wallace on lap 190.
"He didn't wreck, did he?" Waltrip said. "If you make a move and you don't wreck, it usually winds up being sublime in the whole picture."
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