Elliott ends Earnhardt's Twin 125 reign
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- It had been so long since Bill Elliott had won a race, especially at Daytona International Speedway, that shortly after winning the first Gatorade Twin 125 qualifying race for the Daytona 500, his crew chief asked, "Do you still remember where Victory Lane is?"

Bill Elliott
Bill Elliott earned his fourth 125-mile qualifying race for the Daytona 500.

Elliott dominated Thursday's NASCAR Winston Cup qualifying race by taking the lead in the second turn on the first lap and staying there for the remainder of the 50-lap race. The event was extremely mundane as, other than Elliott's pass for the lead, there were only two other passes in the top five.

It was the fourth time Elliott has won a 125-mile qualifying race for the Daytona 500. His other wins came in 1985, 1986 and 1992.

It also signaled the end of Dale Earnhardt's 10-year winning streak in the 125-mile qualifying races. Earnhardt wasn't happy either about how the streak ended.

"That's the worst racing I've seen at Daytona in a long time," said seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt, the 1998 Daytona 500 winner. "They've killed the racing at Daytona. They've taken the race out of the hands of the drivers and crews. It was a joke. Mr. Bill France, Sr. would roll over in his grave."

Elliott finished .171 seconds ahead of Dale Jarrett, who will start on the Daytona 500 pole. Rusty Wallace was third, followed by Tony Stewart, Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte, Scott Pruett and Robby Gordon.

"Well, 2000 started out well," Elliott said. "This is a tribute to what the crew did all winter. My car was perfect, it ran well on the bottom. If I could just keep holding them off, I knew I could hold on to win.

"I had a pretty good start, but a couple of guys started racing and when I got them cleared, we all just lined up. This restrictor plate racing is really hard, but this win is just great. Being out front is the easiest place to be. It's just great. It's been so long since I've been up front in Daytona, but I'm ready to go."

Jarrett's second-place finish does not affect his starting position in Sunday's Daytona 500 because he won the pole last Saturday.

Jarrett, who remains the favorite to win on Sunday, had dominated at Daytona International Speedway, winning time trials for the pole position in the main event and easily taking the Bud Shootout, a 25-lap race for last year's top qualifiers.

"The main objective today, especially for us, but for most of the guys, was to get 50 laps under our belts and see what was going to happen as the tire pressures got up and the fuel got out of the car," Jarrett said.

"The best way to do that is to stay in line and not get to dicing around."

The top 15 finishers in this race will line up on the inside of the top 15 rows in Sunday's Daytona 500.

Elliott drove to victory at an average speed of 188.758 miles per hour in a caution-free race and picked up the first prize of $46,921. The race, witnessed by a sun-splashed crowd of 140,000, lasted 39 minutes, 44 seconds.

Elliott, a two-time Daytona 500 winner who had not won any kind of race since the Southern 500 in 1994, was never challenged in the first of two 125-mile qualifiers. From the outside of the front row, he passed Dale Jarrett at the very start and led a three-Ford breakaway, easily finishing ahead of Jarrett and Wallace

"It wasn't that easy, we were running together and Mark Martin was on my bumper, but our cars started pushing a little bit," Wallace said. "It looked like Bill Elliott had a great car. Bill is way overdue and I'm really proud of him."

This race does not count as an official NASCAR Winston Cup victory. Elliott's last win in a Winston Cup race was the 1994 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

Chat Little took the 15th and last transfer spot into Sunday's Daytona 500.

The qualifiers did nothing to quiet the General Motors teams,who have insisted their redesigned Chevrolet Monte Carlos and the virtually unchanged Pontiac Grand Prixs are at an aerodynamic disadvantage to the partially redesigned Tauruses.

"It looked like a Ford show from where I was sitting," said Jeff Gordon, the defending Daytona winner, who finished sixth in the opener in a Monte Carlo.

Two-time Daytona winner Sterling Marlin finished 17th in the first race and will start 38th on Sunday in his Chevy. Felix Sabates, Marlin's team owner, said he doesn't have much hope of things getting better for the GM cars.

"If you go to a gunfight and guys have bazookas and you've got a wooden knife, that's not too good," Sabates said.

Wallace shrugged off the GM talk.

"It's all in the preparation and the way they handled the new shock rule and so forth," he said.

Told that the Chevrolet teams would like to get some aerodynamic help by having NASCAR allow them a rear sway bar, he said, "Well, I'm sure people in hell would like a glass of ice water, too."

Mike Helton, who heads the competition side of NASCAR, said there will be no changes to the aerodynamic or shock rules for the 500.

Jarrett and Rudd will start from the front row on Sunday, thanks to their qualifying laps last Saturday in the opening round of time trials.

Positions 3-30 went to the top 14 finishers -- excluding Jarrett and Rudd -- in the two qualifying races, with 31-36 filled by the fastest remaining drivers from the two rounds of time trials.

Six more positions went to drivers based on last year's team-owner points, with Darrell Waltrip getting the final spot in the 43-car field as a former series champion.

The lineup includes seven rookies, topped by two-time Busch Series champion Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose Chevrolet finished fourth in the second race, just behind the Pontiac of Ward Burton.

The younger Earnhardt, who made five Winston Cup starts in 1999, will begin his first Daytona 500 in eighth, just behind Stewart, last year's top rookie.

Stewart and Robby Gordon raced together in the first qualifier and there was no carryover from their shoving match Wednesday. The drivers, angry about a fender-bender on the track, avoided any punishment, but NASCAR did fine a Stewart crew member $2,000 for being too aggressive in breaking up the fight.

Among the 13 drivers who failed to make the 500 field were Dave Marcis, whose record string of 32 straight Daytona starts ended when he finished 17th in the second race.

Also heading home was 1986 Daytona 500 winner Geoff Bodine, who was 19th in the opener.

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