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Grand National race is a warmup for 500

Traditionally, today's Goody's 300 is one of the most overlooked races of the year, despite being one of the season-openers. For the Grand National drivers - sort of the top minor-leaguers of

stock-car racing - it is their Daytona 500. And for the big boys, who run the real Daytona 500 on Sunday, it is like an All-Star game, a time for a lot of fun (and not a little money), and a chance for drivers to get their heads on straight for the real race the following day.

"Actually, this race more than any other Grand National race is kind of useful because we haven't raced since November," said defending Goody's champion Darrell Waltrip, who will be starting from the pole after qualifying his Chevrolet at 188.945 mph.

"We can use this race to get the feel of close competition and shake out the cobwebs. I like this race because it's a good tuneup for Sunday. It's always a great race."

Waltrip is a five-time winner of the Goody's 300, and if history is any indication, he's due for No. 6. He won his first and second races back-to-back in 1978-79 and did it again in 1983-84.

"I believe many of these (Grand National) guys could step right up to Winston Cup racing if they had the opportunity to get into the right equipment," Waltrip said.

And why, Dale Earnhardt was asked, would a Daytona 500 driver bother to go racing for a $35,000 payoff today, the day before the big race, with its $2.1-million purse and $200,000 first prize?

"Racing," said Earnhardt, the Goody's winner in 1982 and 1986, "is the way we keep in condition." He is starting next to Waltrip in the front row.

Michael Waltrip, Darrell's younger brother, was forced to run Friday's 100-mile qualifying race just to make the Goody's 300. He did, finishing third. The top 10 drivers in the 100-miler filled out the field.

"I think it's a heck of a note that this is the same car, with the same engine that sat on the pole (in a 300-mile Grand National race last year) at Charlotte," the younger Waltrip said, "and my qualifying speed this time wasn't even good enough to make the Goody's field."

The Goody's is dominated by Winston Cup drivers. No Grand National driver has won it since Jack Ingram did it in 1980. Ingram is starting on the outside of the 11th row.

Morgan Shepherd was supposed to start in that position, but he crashed during practice Thursday and withdrew from the race, the front end of his Ford damaged beyond repair.

"Someone blew an oil line off - I think it was Sterling Marlin - and it scattered oil all over the track," Shepherd said. "There were some other cars in front of me who got into it and when I hit the oil the back end of my car began to skid around, so I turned my wheel to the right.

"All of a sudden I hit a dry spot and the car went right and straight into the wall. It was a big-time hit. It knocked the breath out of me. Before I went out on the track, I was sitting on pit road.

I told one of my guys to go and get my full-face helmet. My open-face helmet was getting a radio put into it. I only have a scratch under my chin," Shepherd said. "I could've ended up with a broken jaw."

Senna forced to apologize before license is issued

PARIS - Former world driving champion Ayrton Senna, after making the apology demanded by international auto racing officials, was granted a license Friday to drive on the Formula One circuit this year.

Senna has been feuding with the Jean-Marie Balestre, president of the International Auto Sports Federation, since the driver said he was manipulated out of the championship last year so that it would go to Alain Prost of France, who was then his teammate.

Balestre said the Brazilian would not get a license to drive Formula One races until he apologized for those remarks.

Senna, who won the 1988 championship, was one of two McLaren-Honda drivers among 35 competitors granted a "super license" by FISA on a revised list Friday, one hour after the original list did not include Senna's name.

Jonathan Palmer, not Senna, and Gerhard Berger of Austria were named for the McLaren team on the first list.

Balestre said the mixup occurred because there were some difficulties with translation of a letter that was apparently signed by Senna and sent Feb. 15.

Balestre said a phone call by Senna on Friday afternoon "to tell us that he accepted all our demands," prompted the revised list.

What got Senna in trouble were his remarks last October in Sao Paolo, Brazil, when he said, "It is clear that political and economic pressure groups manipulated behind the scenes to make Prost this year's champion."

With the revised list was a letter from Balestre to Senna, also dated Feb. 15, the deadline for application for the license.

"We have received your letter of Feb. 15," Balestre's letter read. "We send you your super license and we wish you success in the championship which promises a fine sporting season where you can express the qualities of a champion that we have never contested."

Senna was disqualified in the Japanese Grand Prix in October which

eliminated him from repeating as champion. The title went to Prost for the third time.

His fine was paid on Jan. 31 by his team.

Senna was fined $100,000 and given a six-month suspension for dangerous driving last year following the Japanese incident in which he crashed with Prost and cut short a curve to re-enter the race.

Prost subsequently moved to Ferrari.

McLaren refused any comment on the affair. It has scheduled a news

conference next Wednesday to unveil its new car for the coming season and both Senna and Berger are expected to attend.