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Saturday, February 10
Compton led Dodge drivers
ESPN.com news services

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Dodge's return to NASCAR Winston Cup Series racing is official as practice for the Daytona 500 began Friday.

Stacy Compton was the fastest Dodge driver in Friday's second session, the fourth fastest overall at 181.998 mph. Compton was the second fastest in the morning session at 182.127 mph.

"A lot of people have put in a lot of hard work to make sure these Dodges are competitive," Compton said. "We came out of the box pretty different. A couple of Dodges are running pretty good out there right now. A lot of people out there right now don't have their qualifying motors in.

"Tomorrow is going to be a different story. I think coming out of the box with a new manufacturer, I think they've done a good job. Dodge has really worked hard. All the teams have worked well together."

Dodge struggled in offseason testing, but Compton's team and Bill Davis Racing, with drivers Ward Burton and Dave Blaney, have been able to get some speed out of the new Intrepid.

"I've never been as impressed in my life as hard as this Melling Dodge team is working right now," Compton said. "Dodge has worked awful hard as well as all of these teams to make sure Dodge was competitive right out of the box.

"When we were here testing before, we knew we were legitimate and we were OK. We knew we were. We were sort of curious to see how it was going to shake down when we came back, but it is a load off our minds. If you look at the time sheets, you're seeing some Dodges and Fords and Chevrolets and Pontiacs up there. Everybody is pretty close."

The one Dodge team that isn't up to speed is factory-backed Evernham Motorsports with drivers Bill Elliott and Casey Atwood. Elliott was the 25th fastest at 180.480 mph and Atwood was 37th fastest at 179.287 mph.

"Motivating a young crew after a day like today is tough," team owner Ray Evernham said. "We're a rookie team and this is our first race. We have to be realistic on our expectations. Tomorrow isn't the last day. We've still got next Thursday to get in the race. I'm happy with the Dodges overall. I feel good about tomorrow.

"My goal is to get Bill in the top-15 and Casey in the top-25. If we can get drafting and driving good, we'll be all right."

Compton believes Evernham will be able to get his team up to speed.

"Ray is going to be just fine when it's all said and done," Compton said. "We've seen how much effort they've put into it. When it's all said and done, Ray's teams are going to be just fine. Ray did a tremendous job getting the cars developed, getting the cars and motors approved. He had his hands full. He was getting the motorsports program up and running, plus he was building two teams himself. The Pettys and Bill Davis and all of the teams put in a lot of effort. We went to the wind tunnel this year more than we did all of last year."

Winning streak
The Ford Taurus will be putting its undefeated streak on the line Sunday in the Budweiser Shootout. Since being introduced as Ford's flagship brand in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series three years ago, Taurus has won all three Bud Shootout races thanks to Rusty Wallace (1998), Mark Martin (1999) and Dale Jarrett (2000).

This weekend there will be seven Ford drivers with an opportunity to extend the streak.

"I think everybody is going to be watching the Bud Shootout to see, 'OK, are they gonna bust a part?'" Wallace said. "How close are they going to run together? Is three-wide racing here at Daytona a viable deal? I think the Bud Shootout this year is going to be a little more look-and-see than in the past."

This year's Bud Shootout format is different. Instead of running a 25-lap race split into two segments, it will be 70 laps, which will include a natural pit stop.

"I think it's going to be exciting and we're going to learn a lot," said Jeremy Mayfield, Wallace's teammate. "I think it'll be a good show for the fans, but it's hard to sit here and say just how good because we race every lap. As drivers, we wouldn't mind if it were 500 miles for the Bud Shootout, so it doesn't matter. I think, to us, the more laps the better. It gives you more of a chance to have a little more strategy involved and calm down a little bit.

"You've got to win. Right now we're looking at it like 'do whatever you've got to do to win the race.' Rules or no rules you've got to make the best out of what you've got and that's the good thing about NASCAR racing -- you get out there and drive the wheels off of it and hope to get up front and win the race."

Ricky Craven was the fastest Ford in the afternoon session until Brett Bodine passed him while drafting with Michael Waltrip.

Craven is racing the Tide Ford after running a part-time schedule last year.

"It makes this kind of special," Craven said. "I've got a lot to be thankful for, most importantly crossing paths with Cal Wells, Mike Beam and Roy McCauley. I mean, there are so many people that I needed to be aligned with and in a matter of 30 days we've assembled what I think is going to be a great group of team members.

"The important thing today was recognizing the same things as our previous three tests -- we made gains. We unloaded at a certain point, which was respectable, but we made gains. That's what I've been really impressed with since I've been here. The other thing is that we're focussing on our objectives. The little things mean a lot. They add up to tenths and add up to miles per hour and that's what we've done here."

Nice save
The only incident in Friday's eight hours of practice came late in the day during practice for the drivers in Sunday's Budweiser Shootout.

Mike Skinner was running behind Steve Park and closed rapidly on the rear of the car. He misjudged the closing rate, barely nudged Park's Chevrolet and sent him into a wild spin.

Amazingly, Park was able to keep the car out of the wall in one of the best saves a driver can make.

"I got going backwards there, I was on the brakes at first and got off the brakes and tried to keep the car straight," Park said. "We didn't want to get it over on its roof. It was eyes wide-open doing a lot of steering.

"With the new rules we have here, the closing rate is incredible. Mike Skinner said he lifted, trying not to run into the back of me, and didn't expect the car to close in as much as it did. I'm very fortunate. Any time you spin, going through the tri-oval and not hit anything, you are doing pretty good. Today, we had luck on our side."

Skinner took responsibility for starting the incident.

"When a car comes up on the inside of you, it can speed your car up and shoot it toward the wall or make it loose," Skinner said. "If you get a run on somebody and you get off the gas, when you hit the gas, you don't expect anything to happen and the car shoots forward if you get the right amount of air. That's what happened to Steve and I.

"It barely scratched the nose on my car and darn near killed him."

Skinner said the closing rate will be a major problem between now and the Daytona 500 on Feb. 18.

"It's a situation where you have to practice and find out what you have, but you don't want any incidents," Skinner said. "I was very happy that Steve kept it out of the wall. It probably scared me more than it did him. Steve and I get along good and I don't want to wreck anybody.

"I darn sure don't want to hurt my body out there in practice."

Notes: Shootout will preview 500

New names top charts at Daytona

Evernham optimistic after so-so start

Daytona 500 Friday a.m. practice results

Daytona 500 Friday p.m. practice results

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