DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Mike Wallace drove from fifth to
first on the last lap of Friday night's NASCAR Busch series race,
taking advantage of crashes by Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt
Jr. to earn one of the biggest victories of his career.
Waltrip was strong throughout the race, but fell behind when he
had a tire deflate 26 laps from the end of the 100-lap Winn-Dixie
250 at Daytona International Speedway.
He was 25th on the restart with nine laps remaining, but with
four fresh tires charged through traffic and moved all the way to
the lead on lap 98 with Jason Leffler right on his rear bumper and
Earnhardt close behind.
Going into the final lap on the 2½-mile oval, it was that trio
followed by Greg Biffle and Wallace.
As the leaders drove into turn two, Waltrip slid up the track in
front of Leffler, who bumped Waltrip and sent him spinning off the
track and into the wall. That slowed Leffler a bit and Earnhardt,
with momentum, drove high on the banked track to pass Leffler, who
slid up the track and pinned both himself and Earnhardt to the
That opened the door for Wallace, who shot to the lead and beat
Leffler to the finish line by 0.116-seconds -- about five
car-lengths. After the race, NASCAR penalized Leffler one second
for unnecessary roughness, dropping him to 13th and giving second
place to Biffle.
"The last few laps were just intense,'' said Wallace, who had
gone 137 races since his last Busch victory in 1994 at Indianapolis
At 45, the second of the three racing Wallace brothers has been
struggling this year without major sponsorship on his Ford and had
not finished better than 10th.
"I got behind and I saw Leffler go up to block Junior,'' the
winner said. "My car just turned good and I got out in front and
stayed there. So many people doubted my ability. This is for all
Leffler said he didn't try to wreck anybody and apologized to
Waltrip. But he was less contrite about his run-in with Earnhardt.
"At Talladega, Junior knocked me out of the way with about two
(laps) to go and I didn't care who it was, I wanted to hold him
off,'' Leffler said. "It's kind of like short track racing at 180
miles per hour.''
Earnhardt, the NASCAR Nextel Cup star who had won in five of his
last six Busch appearances, wasn't very happy with Leffler.
"I went to the outside and he just run us in the wall,'' said
Earnhardt, the Daytona 500 winner and the favorite going into
Saturday night's Nextel Cup race. "Ain't no other way to put it.
He took us out, crashed us.
"I had a run on him and he was going to race to the finish and
neither one of us got to do that.''
Biffle had a good view of the last lap action, but was hesitant
to place blame.
"It's hard to point fingers,'' he said. "Everybody's jockeying
for position out there at that point.''
Martin Truex Jr., Earnhardt's teammate, finished fourth,
followed by Robert Pressley, polesitter Mike Bliss, Kasey Kahne and
Rookie Kyle Busch, who came into the race trailing Truex in the
standings by 28 points, finished 11th and slipped to 68 behind.
There were five caution periods in the race, including one
brought out by a 10-car wreck. There were no injuries in the first
Daytona race run with the energy absorbing SAFER barriers in place.