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Lakeland driver Nemechek sustains burns in fiery crash

Busch Grand National driver Joe Nemechek of Lakeland suffered mild burns Saturday in a fiery, 10-car crash in the Goody's 300 at Daytona International Speedway.

Nemechek, 28, sustained first- and second-degree burns on his upper back, thigh and buttocks after the crash in Turn 2. He was treated and released Saturday afternoon from Halifax Medical Center.

"He's going to be okay," said Vic Kangas, Nemechek's crew chief. "We don't know what caused the crash."

The other nine drivers were treated at the track, but none sustained any serious injuries.

The race was interrupted by several accidents, with two other drivers _ Robert Huffman (second-degree burns) and Jimmy Hensley (fractured foot) _ sustaining injuries in an earlier Turn 2 crash. Both drivers were kept overnight at Halifax Medical Center.

After starting on the outside pole and leading several laps, Nemechek's Chevy Lumina suddenly spun on Lap 76 as he drove among a pack of cars. The car slid backward down to the bottom of the track and then back up. He was hit by two cars, the second of which apparently cracked his fuel tank, which exploded and engulfed his car in flames.

Once Nemechek's burning car slid to a stop in the infield, he got out and fell to the ground. He was taken to the track's infield care center and was treated for his burns and smoke inhalation, speedway officials said.

Meanwhile, Nemechek's crew, friends and family members huddled in his garage area and examined the burnt remains of his car, which was missing its trunk and left rear wheel..

Nemechek, a favorite to win the Busch series championship, isn't expected to miss any races.

When Nemechek was asked about this Saturday's Busch race at Hickory (N.C.) Speedway, Rich Rubenstein, Nemechek's press agent, said Nemechek responded: "We'll be ready to go."

Other Daytona news

Goody's 300: Dale Earnhardt managed to avoid trouble in a crash-filled Goody's 300 and won the season-opening Busch Grand National race unchallenged. It was Earnhardt's third straight Goody's victory and fifth of his career. For the win, Earnhardt earned $38,068. The race, run before an estimated crowd of 110,000, featured seven caution periods and four accidents, one which involved 11 cars. No one, however, was seriously hurt. Earnhardt, driving the same car he won in last year, led 101 of the event's 120 laps and outran Ernie Irvan and Ward Burton to the finish line. "I felt like Ernie was mounting a run at us there at the end. He made me a little loose through (Turns) 3 and 4, but I held him off," Earnhardt said.

Earnhardt's "high": Earnhardt's win in the Goody's 300 was his third victory in three days. He won one of the Twin 125 qualifying races on Thursday and the International Race of Champions on Friday. So does he think he'll finally win the Daytona 500, a title that has eluded him so far? "What you've done so far is not going to win the race (today)," he said. Earnhardt did admit, though, that "I've been on one of the greatest highs I've been on in my career."

MVP water boy: Washington Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien will be the water boy in Chad Little's pit crew today. The Super Bowl MVP quarterback and Little both used to live in Spokane, Wash., and are old friends.

_ Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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