Originally created 03/09/02

Park to return to Winston Cup at site of accident



HAMPTON, Ga. -- Steve Park will return to Winston Cup competition next week at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, where a crash left him with a brain injury that led to slurred speech and double vision.

"All of the hard work since last September is finally paying off," Park said. "My goal was to return strong and be as competitive as I was before the accident.

"I feel great physically and mentally and I don't have any lingering problems."

In a Busch Series race at Darlington in September, Park's car veered out of control under caution and was hit by another car. He had to be cut from the wreckage and spent two days in a hospital.

Ty Norris, vice president at Dale Earnhardt Inc., announced Park's return Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, site of Sunday's MBNA America 500.

"We knew Darlington was the target date, but we never said it because we didn't want anyone to put any pressure on him," Norris said. "Darlington was not chosen because it's a good story or out of irony. It just happened that this race fell in our time table for his comeback."

Park successfully completed several private runs in the past few months under the watchful eye of NASCAR, including one at Lowe's Motor Speedway with DEI teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Michael Waltrip. Park also tested at Darlington last week.

"Steve was awesome at every test, so we knew he was physically able to come back" Norris said. "We wanted to make sure he was mentally ready, and he said he was."

Norris said Kenny Wallace, who replaced Park in the No. 1 Chevrolet, might run selected races with the team during the rest of the season.

"There's no one else in the garage that could have made this work like Kenny Wallace," Norris said. "He came in knowing it was Steve's car, and he said he'd run five races, 10 races or 15 races, he didn't care. He made it easy on everybody else."

Wallace also is competing full time in the NASCAR Busch Series.

"When Steve got hurt, my back was against the wall about my Winston Cup future," Wallace said. "So this was really good medicine for a driver that was sick. I couldn't have asked for anything more."