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NASCAR's Jimmie Johnson to drive in Daytona 500 without stitches or pads on cut finger

DAYTONA BEACH — Jimmie Johnson's injured left middle finger passed a crash test on Saturday night in the Bud Shootout and the three-time defending Sprint Cup champion doesn't plan to wear anything other than his normal gloves in Sunday's Daytona 500.

Johnson, who suffered tendon and nerve damage attempting to cut a hole in his firesuit with a kitchen knife during the Rolex 24 last month, experimented with protective pads in practice on Saturday but couldn't make them comfortable.

The thickness of the steering wheel, he said, is support enough, he said, and he was able to get his hand off the wheel quickly after being turned into the wall on the final lap of the Shootout. A turning steering wheel can easily break fingers during a crash.

All 16 of his stitches have been removed and Johnson said the nerve is causing his only discomfort.

"I just have to protect the tendon," he said. "The nerve is starting to wake up, so my finger, it's like fire kind of shoots through it at times. It pulses and tingles and does some weird things. That keeps me up a little bit at night when it's active on me."

FAST START: Tony Stewart admitted that leading a lap in the Bud Shootout, his first race as a Sprint Cup driver/owner, was emotional.

The two-time series champion finished third in the No. 14 Chevrolet, his first Cup race of a ten-year career that was not in Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 20 Chevrolet.

"That is a big moment for anybody,'' he said of having the lead. "Anybody that takes on a big undertaking like this, the first time you lead a race with it especially the first race out of the box and lead it in the fist 20 laps like that, that is something to really be proud of."

DOWNER: Kevin Harvick's Shootout win was tempered by a 49th-best qualifying effort, especially since his Richard Childress Racing team uses the same engines as Earnhardt Ganassi, which put all three drivers in the top seven. RCR's Clint Bowyer qualified 22nd, Jeff Burton 31st and Casey Mears 40th.

"It definitely wasn't the lap we expected," Harvick said. "I don't think we were looking at the pole, but we were definitely much better than that lap showed. The engine never turned the rpm's we expected it to. The guys just told me it looks like we burned up a rear end gear, but I don't know exactly what happened."

HYLTON CHECK-OUT: James Hylton, who was attempting at age 74 to become the oldest to race in the Daytona 500, didn't even get to make a qualifying run because his No. 60 Dodge could not pass inspection on Saturday and reach the track for practice.

"I feel like I've been snake bit," Hylton said in a release.

Hylton's crew changed the starter, battery and "more or less rebuilt the carburetor," the release continues. Hylton the 1966 NASCAR rookie of the year, had a best finish of third in 1967 in 15 Daytona 500s.

NASCAR's Jimmie Johnson to drive in Daytona 500 without stitches or pads on cut finger 02/08/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 11, 2009 4:43pm]
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[Bill Serne | Times]