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No restrictions on DEI's success

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Talk all week surrounding the demise of Dale Earnhardt Inc.'s restrictor-plate program at Daytona International proved to be greatly exaggerated after Michael Waltrip and DEI teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. teamed up to provide the highlight of yesterday's Gatorade Duel 150s, which set the field for Sunday's 47th Daytona 500.

After he and his teammate switched crews in a bold preseason move, Waltrip, a two-time winner of the Daytona 500, helped pushed Earnhardt, last year's 500 winner, to the front and then beat him in a dramatic last-lap drag race to the checkered flag by 0.030 seconds. It served notice that DEI was not done at Daytona even after its subpar qualifying effort last Sunday.

"Dale Jr. said that everything would be clear after Thursday, and I think he's right," said Waltrip, who will start one row ahead of Earnhardt in Row 2 behind pole sitter Dale Jarrett. "We've got fast cars. I'm proud of the guys. We worked real well and I'm so happy."

Said Earnhardt, "We've got to work on this car a little bit. Michael has a real good car and he did what he had to do to win this race. He helped me a lot to get up there and I feel lucky to finish second."

Tony Stewart, winner of the crashed-marred second 150-mile qualifying heat, was also the beneficiary of teamwork after Bobby Labonte, Stewart's teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, helped push him to the front of the pack.

"To be honest, the key to winning the race was my teammate Bobby Labonte. We got such a good push from him into Turn 1 that it got us by. I thought he was going to get clear by also and be able to keep going. But you know it shows what kind of teammate he is. He knew it was probably going to hurt him to hit me as hard as he did. But he did it to help Joe Gibbs Racing and we probably couldn't have won the race without Bobby there today."

Playing ball?
Jack Roush, car owner of the last two NASCAR Nextel Cup Series champions, squashed rumors circulating at Daytona yesterday that he and Red Sox owner John W. Henry, whom Roush hosted at last July's Nextel Cup race at New Hampshire International Speedway, had discussed an interest in a possible ownership stake in Roush Racing. "John Henry is a friend. He's an acquaintance and a friend who shares a common interest in professional sport," Roush said last night. "And there's no discussion of any kind. I'm not interested in buying into the Red Sox and, of course, I know he's not interested in buying into my team."

Geoff Smith, Roush Racing's general manager, told the Associated Press yesterday that any talks with Henry concerned cross-promotion with the Red Sox. "Jack Roush as long as he lives is going to want to control and operate these race teams," Smith said. "Not to rule out that there isn't a proposition that could be advanced for some sort of affiliation at some time, but right now we like the prospect of an affiliation from a marketing standpoint."

Lose some, win some
He was 18th fastest in pole qualifications for the Daytona 500, then went out and wrecked his truck in Tuesday's practice session for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series opener tomorrow, and was edged out of a spot in the 500 by Kenny Wallace by the slimmest of margins -- seven-100ths of a second -- in yesterday's first qualifying heat in the Gatorade Duel 150s. But Kerry Earnhardt, son of the late Dale Earnhardt, redeemed himself by winning the first career pole in a NASCAR-sanctioned series with a lap of 182.478 miles per hour. "Could it get any worse?" said Earnhardt, who will start on the pole for tonight's Florida Dodge Dealers 250, his first NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race. "Of course, it feels great to be on top. This is a big uplift. Like I said, I was kind of bummed out about not making the 500. But my philosophy is that if it's not meant to be, then it's not meant to be. And maybe this was meant to be." . . . Ricky Craven, the former Nextel Cup driver from Newburgh, Maine, qualified 27th fastest in the No. 99 truck (179.115) and will start in Row 13 in the 26th starting spot . . . Kevin Lepage, 42, of Shelburne, Vt., raced his way into the 500 by finishing third in the second qualifying heat. Lepage will make his career best start in the 500 from Row 4 in the eighth starting position . . . Kevin Harvick, driver of the Richard Childress-owned No. 29 Chevrolet, wound up being persona non grata in the garage area after he incited a seven-car melee in the second Duel 150s qualifying heat that took out race leader Jimmie Johnson. Harvick tapped the rear bumper of Johnson's car and sent it spinning in the middle of Turn 2 on Lap 37 of the 60-lap heat. "We were just going along and [Harvick] pulls his head off his shoulders and starts bump-drafting in the center of the turn," Johnson said. "I guess all those years of watching TV like he said he did, he didn't watch much of it to realize you're not supposed to bump draft in the middle of the turn. It's a shame. He just tore up six or seven good racecars. I hope that Childress either fires him or does something about him or that NASCAR does something about him because this is ridiculous -- absolutely ridiculous." Said Harvick, in his defense, "I just got to him and he checked up and I got to him and I couldn't get off of him. I just spun him out and I feel sorry for the teams and everybody involved."

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