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Fords lagging as Stewart wins Shootout

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Rules nearly overshadowed racing
Sunday in the Budweiser Shootout.

Two hours after Tony Stewart's Pontiac held off a last-lap
charge by the Chevrolets of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon at
Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR made a move to give the
beleaguered Fords some relief.

On a day when the top-finishing Ford, driven by three-time
Daytona 500 champion Dale Jarrett, was a distant, uncompetitive
sixth, NASCAR president Mike Helton said the height of the rear
spoiler of the Tauruses will be cut a quarter-inch to 6 inches in
an effort to even up the competition.

The new rule will be instituted after the second round of time
trials on Monday. It will be in effect in time for practice on
Tuesday and Wednesday, and for Thursday's twin 125-mile qualifying
races.

"That gives us a chance to see what this action creates,"
Helton said. "We've said all along we would adjust to get it right
as quick as we can.

"We're making this change based on what we've seen on the race
track in three days in Daytona."

In the opening round of time trials on Saturday, Robert Yates
Racing teammates Jarrett and Ricky Rudd were 13th and 15th, the
only Fords among the top 20.

The Ford teams in the Winston Cup Series have been complaining
bitterly since last year of an aerodynamic disadvantage against the
General Motors and DaimlerChrysler cars.

Following January testing here, NASCAR cut a quarter-inch off
the Ford's rear spoilers, but the teams insisted it was not enough.

Rules were on everyone's mind Sunday as a mostly single-file
race finally turned into a legitimate shootout at the end, with
Stewart winning for the second straight year with an Earnhardt in
his rearview mirror.

It was Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Stewart's rear bumper right to the
finish line in the race that is considered a sneak preview of next
weekend's Daytona 500.

Last year, Stewart outdueled Dale Earnhardt in the made-for-TV
event at Daytona International speedway, just a week before the
seven-time Winston Cup champion was killed in the Daytona 500.

"Winning that race last year with that black No. 3 in my mirror
was the highlight of my career," Stewart said. "But this was just
like last year. He may have 'Junior' behind his name, but he drives
like Senior."

Gordon, the four-time and reigning Winston Cup champion, was
also part of the exciting finish. He drew the last starting spot in
the 22-car field but worked his car into position to make a run at
the leader near the end of the 70-lap event.

The race was a reflection of NASCAR's latest aerodynamic rules
package that has slowed the cars and made it much harder to pass.

Stewart, the Winston Cup runner-up last year, led a five-car
breakaway in the waning laps, pulling Earnhardt, Sterling Marlin,
Ken Schrader and Gordon in a tight single file for lap after lap.
Finally, six laps from the end, Gordon, who seemed to be one of the
few drivers who could consistently pass, made a move around
Schrader on the high side to take fourth. Gordon and Schrader then
combined to pass Marlin two laps from the end.

On the final trip around the 2½-mile track, Gordon chose the
high side of the banked oval and got alongside Earnhardt. The two
bogged down coming off the fourth turn, and Stewart won by about a
car-length as Earnhardt edged Gordon for second.

Stewart was happy with the aero rule.

"It gave the ability back to the drivers instead of being at
the mercy of the air," he said. "It made it a little harder to
pass for the lead, but you could get to the front. Gordon got to
the front from the back.

"The nice thing is we feel like we're driving the car again."

Stewart averaged 181.295 mph and won $200,955.

Earnhardt said there was no way he was going to overtake
Stewart.

"I felt like the race was over going into Turn 1 on the last
lap," Earnhardt said. "Every time we were trying to do something
to get a run on Tony, he knew what we were doing."

Stewart had seen it before from the Earnhardt family.

"It was the same tricks his father tried to pull last year to
get the lead," Stewart said.

Schrader's Pontiac finished fourth, just ahead of Marlin's
Dodge. Jarrett was sixth, a half-straightaway behind Marlin.

Fords were definitely having problems Sunday.

Kurt Busch started from the pole in a Taurus after getting that
position in a blind draw. After Stewart passed him for the lead on
lap four, the only other Ford driver out front the rest of the way
was Rusty Wallace, who led for several laps after taking only two
tires on the race's mandatory green-flag pit stop. He was quickly
caught and passed, finishing 11th.

The aerodynamic rules for Daytona and Talladega, NASCAR's two
biggest and fastest ovals, were changed following a dull Daytona
500 in 2000.

The 2001 rules turned the event into a wild show, with three-
and four-wide racing and passing throughout the pack on just about
every lap. It was great entertainment but left drivers complaining
about the dangers of such racing.

"I'd rather be a spectator if they go back to the old rules,"
Gordon said. "They may still do some tweaking, but I felt
comfortable out there and enjoyed it."