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Sunday, February 18, 2007
Late crash takes Junior out of Daytona 500

By David Newton, Terry Blount and Marty Smith
ESPN.com

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. never thought he had a real chance to win his second Daytona 500.

A chain-reaction crash on Lap 196 of the 200-lap event guaranteed he didn't.

"We were trying everything we could," said Earnhardt, who finished 32nd as a result of the crash. "The race wasn't over with, but we didn't bring enough bullets."

Earnhardt was good enough to hang around the top five to 10 cars, but never good enough to get to the front as he typically is on the 2.5-mile track. That's where he was when Matt Kenseth got into Jamie McMurray to start the multi-car incident that ended his day.

As Ricky Rudd pulled up the track to escape McMurray's spinning car, he went into the path of Earnhardt, who had nowhere to go but Rudd's rear bumper.

"I couldn't see what was happening in front of me," Earnhardt said. "We were coming off Turn 2 and I just saw sparks on the wall."

As disappointed as he was with the wreck, Earnhardt was more disappointed with the lack of performance on a track where he's typically one of the dominant drivers.

"We're not where we used to be and that's pretty obvious," he said. "The motors make good numbers. It's not a problem with the engine builders. It's how the car gets run in the draft and how the car holds the run for several laps."

-- David Newton

Montoya's first Daytona
Juan Pablo Montoya looked at the bright side.

Juan Pablo Montoya
Juan Pablo Montoya finished 19th, but it wasn't the kind of result he was hoping for.

"We missed every wreck," he said. "That was good."

Montoya managed to post a respectable 19th-place showing in his first Daytona 500. Not bad considering he had a mangled gearbox in the No. 42 Dodge at the end.

"It got stuck between two gears and we lost half the gearbox," Montoya said. "The transmission had second, but when I went to third, it just broke into pieces. I was lucky to get fourth. It's a shame because we had a great motor, but a top-20 is kind of what we wanted here."

The former Formula One star spent a lot of the race near the back of pack while the team tried to improve the car's handling problems.

"It started really bad," Montoya said. "We were really tight and we were struggling. The car was so bad. I don't know what happened."

But the team made adjustments as the race progressed and Montoya gradually moved forward. He also managed to avoid several multi-car accidents that happened in front of him.

When the race ended, the Colombian was one of 27 cars on the lead lap. Not bad for a guy who has spent his entire career in cars without fenders.

"Stock car racing is good," he said. "Here, it's easy. You just get a good handling car and put yourself in the right position to move forward. That's all you can do."

Ouch
Kevin Harvick had a sore hand when he went to Victory Lane.

"I crushed the dang [rear-view] mirror because I was so excited," Harvick said.

Harvick was pumping his right fist inside the car when he banged his hand on the mirror, knocking if off the windshield.

Urge to merge
What was Dave Blaney thinking?

Blaney ducked down pit road and wisely avoided a pack of cars that almost wrecked in front of him with 14 laps to go.

He was traveling at more than 150 mph when he exited pit road at the end of the frontstretch. But instead of staying below the yellow line and letting the pack go by him, Blaney tried to move back on the track as if he were merging into the flow of traffic on the freeway.

Bad idea. Blaney hit Ken Schrader's car, which started a multi-car accident.

NASCAR officials held Blaney in the pits for five laps for aggressive driving. Blaney didn't talk about the incident, but in his defense, maybe he couldn't turn the No. 22 Toyota.

He had a flat right front tire, which could have kept him from turning the car to the left.

-- Terry Blount

Tough day for pit crews
It appears that Josh Yost, jack man for Jeff Burton's No. 31 Chevrolet, suffered his second serious Achilles' tendon injury in less than two years in Sunday's Daytona 500.

Richard Childress Racing team spokesman David Hart said Yost suffered an injury to his left Achilles' tendon that doctors described as showing "classic signs of a rupture."

In May 2005, Yost suffered a laceration to his right Achilles tendon at Talladega Superspeedway when he was struck by Rusty Wallace's Dodge on the pit lane. That took months to heal. Yost required a wheelchair and had to learn how to walk again.

Now this.

Hart said Yost flew home to North Carolina on Sunday in a splint and will see an orthopedic doctor as soon as possible Monday.

Yost wasn't the only crewman injured Sunday. Jeremy Geiter, a crewmember on Mike Wallace's No. 09 team, suffered an injury to his left foot and ankle after being struck by Jamie McMurray during a pit stop on Lap 176.

Geiter told ESPN.com that he and the No. 09 team were pushing Wallace from the pit stall when McMurray, pitting behind them, pulled out and ran over his left foot.

Geiter said doctors informed him he might have a hairline fracture, but that a sprain and bruise was likely the extent of the injury.

-- Marty Smith

No sweep
Tony Stewart had a shot to become the first driver to win the Budweiser Shootout, a 150-mile qualifying race and the Daytona 500.

Then came Kurt Busch.

Busch got into the back of Stewart's car while going for the lead on Lap 153, leaving the two-time Cup champion with a mangled car and last-place finish.

"I made the first mistake," said Busch, who finished two spots ahead of Stewart in 41st. "I apologize to the 20 car. I know it doesn't help any. He's been a good friend at the restrictor-plate races."

Appeal filed
Roush Fenway Racing president Geoff Smith has filed an appeal of the points penalty given to driver Matt Kenseth after his car failed post-qualifying inspection.

Kenseth was docked 50 championship points, which Smith claims is too harsh based on precedence set last year with Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson's team was fined and crew chief Chad Knaus suspended for four races when his car failed post-qualifying inspection a year ago. Kenseth lost crew chief Robbie Reiser for four races and the points.

"We're not appealing the suspension," Smith said. "But NASCAR said last year when they suspended Johnson's crew chief that they want to be consistent with their penalties. There's no precedence for 50 points."

Meanwhile, Ray Evernham said he likely would appeal the penalties for the crew chiefs for drivers Elliott Sadler and Scott Riggs. Both were suspended for two races and the drivers were docked 25 points each.

"But I'm more interested in restoring our reputation," said Evernham, who says the holes drilled in the bolts that attach the rear spoiler were not done intentionally for an aerodynamic advantage, as NASCAR indicated. "That's been tarnished and that bothers me more than anything."

What a feeling
The fan wearing an empty Budweiser box on his head like a hat and a No. 8 T-shirt apparently is not happy to see Toyota entering Nextel Cup.

On the back of the shirt were the words, "Toyota sucks."

"They belong on the street, not on the track," said 38-year-old Scott Hoyle of Jessup, Ga.

-- D.N.