Already assured the pole, Dale Jarrett strengthened his position as the Daytona 500 favorite by winning the Bud Shootout on Sunday.
After overpowering 54 other drivers Saturday in winning the top qualifying spot for next Sunday's season-opening Winston Cup event, Jarrett showed the handling on his Robert Yates Racing Ford was as intimidating as its horsepower.
To get into the 25-lap, made-for-TV race for last year's pole winners, Jarrett had to win a 25-lap preliminary event for last year's second-round qualifying leaders.
Each of Sunday's races included a mandatory pit stop with a two-tire change, and Jarrett's five new crewmen moving to the Yates team from Jeff Gordon's elite Rainbow Warriors showed they were fast and flawless.
The pit stop in the qualifying race moved Jarrett past Ricky Craven into first place and he sped away to win by just over five seconds nearly half a straightaway on the 2@1/2-mile Daytona International Speedway oval.
That earned the defending series champion and two-time Daytona 500 winner the chance to start last in the 15-car main event.
Through the first nine laps, Jarrett remained at or near the rear of the tightly bunched field. But, when the rest of the drivers drove onto pit road at the end of lap 10, Jarrett and Bobby Labonte remained on the track.
"You have to slow down considerably to pit with all that traffic," Jarrett said. "We figured if we waited and the two of us came in together, we could get in and out quicker and draft together to get back to speed."
The strategy, hatched by Jarrett's crew chief, Todd Parrott, and Labonte's crew chief, Jimmy Makar Jarrett's brother-in-law worked perfectly.
Two laps from the end, Jarrett moved alongside Rudd on the backstretch. As the two Fords remained side-by-side, Gordon made a move on the front straightaway, racing around Jarrett at the top of the banking before diving almost to the infield grass to move into second before the first turn.
The scramble on the final lap was a classic, with the Chevrolets of Gordon and Marli getting side-by-side. Jarrett, with help from Labonte, took the outside line and shot into the lead coming off turn four.
He beat Gordon to the finish by .261-seconds about 3 car-lengths. Jarrett averaged 182.334 mph.
"I had a run," Jarrett said. "I said, `The car's working good on the outside, so let's give this a try. If it doesn't work, we're not going to lose any points."'
Gordon, who thought his gutsy inside move on the 24th lap might have won him the race, said, "Today's a shootout. You go for broke. You take them three-wide, whatever you have to do. In the 500, you're much more patient. You wait until the last few laps to make that kind of move."
There were no caution flags in the race, but the finish was marred by a wild crash that began when Marlin banged into Labonte as they neared the line. Labonte got sideways in front of Rudd, whose car hit the wall and was then pinched by Kenny Schrader's car. The Ford sailed into the air and wound up sliding down the front straightaway on its roof.
Rudd was able to slide out of the car and walk to the ambulance for the mandatory checkup at the infield medical center. He was not injured.
"It was weird because I slid on the roof a long way and it was never a hard hit," said Rudd, who will start alongside Jarrett in the 500.
The Shootout, competitive throughout, blunted fears that the new Chevrolet Monte Carlos buried in qualifying by the Fords and the Pontiacs would be at a disadvantage in the race.
"The Fords still have us a little on speed, but I think the 500 is won by handling and strategy and who can have good pit stops and get in front," said Gordon, who also has won NASCAR's biggest race twice.
Jarrett said, "It looks like the Chevrolets are OK. I've heard them complaining a little this week, but their cars looked awful good. It's going to be a heck of a race next week."
Mark Martin, who got the Shootout pole in a blind draw, wound up last, completing only 10 laps.
Martin, racing for the time since spinal fusion surgery in November, slid into his jackman as he made his pit stop. The crewman was not seriously injured, but Martin parked the car.
"We didn't have enough brakes," he said. "I couldn't get it slowed down."
The only other accident of the day came on the first lap of the qualifying race when Kenny Wallace hit the wall coming off turn four and started a chain reaction that caught up Rick Mast and Stanton Barrett. None of the drivers was injured.
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