Ken Schrader's week of good luck went up in smoke a quarter of a milefrom the finish line Thursday with a crash that knocked him from one end of the starting field to the other for Sunday's Daytona 500.
Schrader, with the pole position for the 500 already secure, was going through the motions of finishing the first of the Twin 125-mile qualifying races.
"I got greedy," said Schrader, who had not only clinched the pole last Sunday but also had won $95,000 with a victory in the Busch Clash the day before that. Now, one lap from the end of the Twin 125 and with Mark Martin's Ford Thunderbird just ahead of his Chevrolet Lumina, Schrader envisioned another $34,000 waiting for him at the finish line.
"I thought I was racing (Martin) for the win. I wish somebody had told me I wasn't. I would have backed off."
In fact, Schrader was running fourth, behind Martin, Harry Gant and front-runner Geoff Bodine.
And as Bodine crossed the finish line 2.02 seconds ahead of Gant for the victory that was supposed to put Bodine's Ford Thunderbird third in Sunday's lineup, Schrader got sideways and virtually vanished in a cloud of smoke from his burning tires. Hut Stricklin's Pontiac slammed into Schrader's car.
"There's a lot of sheet-metal damage on it," Schrader's crew chief, Richard Broome, said. "I don't think we can get the panels and stuff back on it the way it should be. We'll risk going to the back of the pack with another car (their backup car). Right now, that's the only choice I've got."
And since Schrader won't be racing the car he qualified, the rules say he has to go to the back of the line on Sunday.
Technically, Schrader will still start from the pole. But as the cars begin their first warmup lap, Schrader will move out of line, allow the field to pass him, then slip into the end of the inside row.
If he finishes first, Schrader will win the $212,800 Unocal Challenge for winning both the pole and the race.
"We had two options," Broome said. "We could have worked all day (Friday) fixing the car or we could switch to the backup car today and be ready to practice it the first thing tomorrow. The two cars are pretty equal. We've got nothing to lose but position on the track.
That means a lot, but it's a 500-mile race and we've got time to work our way back to the front.
"If NASCAR had ruled that we were not eligible to win the Unocal bonus in the backup car, then we would have fixed this one."
The chief beneficiary of Schrader's bad fortune was Bodine. By gambling that he could run the entire 125-mile qualifier on one tank of gas, and then doing it, he not only won $34,000 but also wound up on the pole when Sunday's green flag drops. He would have started on the inside of the second row, but with Schrader gone, everyone on the inside moves up one row. Bodine goes to the head of the field, alongside Dale Earnhardt's Chevrolet.
Earnhardt, blessed with a new set of tires in the final 10 laps of the second Twin 125, blew past 12 other cars to win his heat. He didn't need the victory - he had clinched his outside front-row position for the Daytona 500 last Sunday - but it was worth it.
"Hey, $34,000 is a hell of a lot of money," Earnhardt said, smiling at his wife, Theresa. "Baby needs a new pair of shoes, doesn't she?"
In the first race, Bodine moved up from sixth to second when Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, Martin and Schrader made quick pit stops for fuel with seven laps remaining and took the lead when Ricky Rudd, who hadn't pitted, ran out of gas with a lap and a half to go.