Hylton had a chance until late in first Duel

Updated: February 16, 2007, 5:27 PM ET
By Terry Blount and David Newton | ESPN.com

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- James Hylton was six laps away from racing his way into the Daytona 500 Thursday before becoming a victim of the restrictor-plate shuffle.

Hylton was running eighth before a train of cars behind him blew by, ending the 72-year-old driver's chance of making history.

Hylton was hoping to become the oldest driver ever to compete in a NASCAR points race. He finished 23rd in the first Gatorade Duel qualifying race, but came closer to earning a spot in the Daytona 500 than almost anyone expected.

"I don't remember the last time I had that much fun," Hylton said. "I don't think anybody deserves that much fun."

Hylton had the second slowest lap during qualifying Sunday, causing him to start near the back of the 31-car field for his qualifying race.

Three cars started behind him -- Dave Blaney and Mike Bliss for engine changes and Michael Waltrip for a penalty. All three zoomed by Hylton at the green flag.

Hylton said he was being patient. He also was being respectful of the other drivers.

"When you're running with this breed of superstars, you don't want to do anything to get them out of shape," Hylton said. "They were all real good to me, every one of them. I can't say enough about it."

Hylton ran near the back most of the race, but he stayed on the lead lap in the No. 58 Retirement Living Chevy. He moved up by taking advantage of a yellow flag late in the race.

Hylton stayed on the track when most of the cars in front of him pitted with 15 laps to go, briefly moving Hylton to second place. Hylton fell back, but he still was eighth on a restart with six to go.

Heading into Turn 1, Hylton slipped up the track slightly and a line of cars behind him went low. That's all it took. Hylton had no drafting help on the high side and couldn't keep up with the cars in the low line.

Nevertheless, it wasn't a bad showing for a man more than twice the age of most drivers he was racing.

Hylton received national media attention over his attempt to make the race. He said he also received hundreds of e-mails from senior citizens wishing him well.

"I hope I didn't let them down," Hylton said. "I did the best I could. We'll get 'em next time."

-- Terry Blount

Goop bandit
Lee White, the senior vice president for Toyota Racing Development, doesn't know if the person responsible for putting an illegal substance into the engine of Michael Waltrip's car before qualifying ever will be determined.

Waltrip's crew chief, David Hyder, and competition director, Bobby Kennedy, were indefinitely suspended by NASCAR for the incident. Waltrip was fined 100 championship points.

"There are no fingerprints on the goop they found," White said after Waltrip qualified for Sunday's Daytona 500. "It's just goop. This isn't CSI: Las Vegas. [Gil] Grissom's not here contributing to executing a guilty person based on bugs.

"There might be some bugs in that trailer, but the bugs didn't point to the guy. In a circumstance like this, you've got to get the guy to be a stand-up person and say, 'I screwed up and I did it.' That hasn't happened, to my knowledge."

White said he got at least 25 e-mails on Thursday morning from people all over the country supporting Waltrip.

"Michael must have a fan club or something," he said.

Oops
Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn't seem too upset that Waltrip, who won two Daytona 500s at Dale Earnhardt Inc., spun him out 16 laps into the first 150-mile qualifying race.

Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart were passing Waltrip for the lead on the high side when Waltrip tried to squeeze in between them. Waltrip got into the back of NASCAR's most popular driver and sent him spinning through the infield grass.

"I just know one minute I was going straight and then I was going toward the inside fence," Earnhardt Jr. said.

Waltrip admitted he made a mistake.

"I'm just glad he got through it," he said. "He's spun me out before, though, so I knew he wouldn't be too mad."

Earnhardt Jr. rallied to finish second behind Stewart. His car received damage to the rear end that must be repaired in time for Friday's practice.

Earnhardt Jr. seemed to sympathize with Waltrip on what he's been through the past few days, saying it's not unusual for a driver not to know what a crew member has done to a car.

On the other hand, Earnhardt Jr. added, "It's hard to imagine -- as a driver I would take that for what it's worth -- but it's hard to imagine as an owner that you wouldn't know something about that."

Waltrip is the owner of Michael Waltrip Racing's three-car Toyota team.

Bad day for Montoya
Juan Pablo Montoya's first 150-mile qualifying race ended early when he hit the wall and finished last after leading 18 of the first 24 laps.

"The first thing I said to my crew chief was I didn't want to run three-wide," Montoya said. "The car was good. It was a little tight, but I think the Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates team has done a great job."

Montoya, making the move from Formula One to the Cup series, will start near the back of the field on Sunday in his first Daytona 500.

"Sunday is going to be a little bit more wild," Montoya said.

Said said
On finishing 12th to race his way into 500, Boris Said said, "It was like two cinder blocks falling off my shoulders."

-- David Newton

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter