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Earnhardt Jr. wins first Gatorade Duel

Feb 14, 2008 - 8:40 PM By Bruce Martin PA SportsTicker Contributing Editor

DAYTONA BEACH, Florida (Ticker) - Dale Earnhardt Jr. won his second straight race at Daytona this week, scoring his third Gatorade Duel at Daytona victory in Thursday's first qualifying race for Sunday's Daytona 500.

Brian Vickers, who spun his Toyota Camry after contact with Paul Menard early in the race and had to pit for another tire issue later, was able to finish 11th and take the final transfer position into Sunday's race.

"I had a lot of friends out there who really helped, me," Vickers said. "It's like I won the race. The last time I felt this good is when I won a race. Just to get the year started off right is important to me. We learned from those mistakes and it paid off."

Kenny Wallace finished eighth and took the other transfer spot in the race which meant that Joe Nemechek will make the Daytona 500 starting lineup based on his single-lap time trial speed last Sunday.

"I was so focused on my driving; they dropped the green flag and I almost spun out," Kenny Wallace said. "Under green flag racing it handled so good. I'm very grateful. You get in the zone out there. You want to make sure you clear them and then slide up in front of them.

"I'm in the 50th Daytona 500 and I want to thank my brother, Mike Wallace for spotting for me."

Earnhardt drove from back of the pack to the front to win the race after he was one of seven drivers to change engines before the race.

"This was pretty interesting with those old tires back there through the race, spinning tires and carrying on," Earnhardt said. "I came in front of the 12 (Newman) and it must have been by inches. Old tires were fun, man. We were about wrecking back there but it was fun.

"This has to look great on TV but the car is hard to drive. It sure is a handful on the car and it reminds me a lot of the old style of race cars. I think it's all right and so far, the car has a good grade from me."

Reed Sorenson's Dodge was second followed by Newman's Dodge, Casey Mears' Chevrolet and Carl Edwards' Ford.

Dale Jarrett's quest to make the field was hampered when Kurt Busch's engine blew up on the 10th lap, dropping him off the track. Busch will earn the former champions provisional starting position because he is the most recent Cup champion.

Busch's seventh-place points from last season were transferred to teammate and rookie Sam Hornish Jr., the 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time IndyCar champion.

"We've got the champions provisional to fall back on so we're not worrying about it," Busch said.

Jarrett, who was in the field for the second Duel, was left in jeopardy of missing the field for his final Daytona 500. He is a three-time winner of the Daytona 500 (1993, '96, and 2000).

It only took Earnhardt 18 laps to drive from the rear to the front of the field when he put his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet in front ahead of Ryan Newman's Dodge.

Earnhardt was one of seven drivers that had to drop to the rear of the field because of engine changes including Daytona 500 pole winner Jimmie Johnson, Casey Mears, Brian Vickers, Scott Riggs, Clint Bowyer and J.J. Yeley.

Elliott Sadler's Dodge slowed suddenly when his car went to the high line, dropping him back in the field on the 22nd lap. He was able to enter the pits to fix an apparent tire problem as the right front tire was shredded.

Boris Said, one of the fastest of the "go-or-go-home" group of drivers pitted with Hornish on the 32nd lap, putting him out of tough with the lead pack of cars.

Earnhardt experienced a tire-blistering problem and pitted on lap 35 along with Johnson and Newman among the 10 cars that pitted on that lap. Yeley was nailed for speeding on pit road and had to serve a pass-through penalty.

Johnson was in front after the round of pit stops entering the final third of the race.

With 10 laps to go, Newman was in front before Earnhardt took the lead with eight laps left.

Johnson, who will start on the pole for the Daytona 500 no matter what, pulled his car into pit lane with seven to go with another tire problem.

Sadler had another tire come part with five laps left for another caution period.

Vickers, who was in the final transfer position, pitted along with Said to get fresh rubber for the final three laps of the race.

Vickers was able to get out of the pits ahead of Said's Ford.

With three to go, Earnhardt led the field while Sorenson took second. Further back in the pack, Vickers passed Joe Nemechek for the final transfer position.

A.J. Allmendinger finished 13th and missed making the field.

"It pretty much sucks," said Allmendinger, who missed the Daytona 500 starting lineup for the second year in a row.

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