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Waltrip reveals his retirement plans

The blue light is nearing its final flicker. Soon, something special comes to an end.

Veteran driver Darrell Waltrip revealed his retirement plans Thursday, announcing a farewell tour that keeps the No. 66 Ford rolling for one final season.

"You know, it's pretty tough," an emotional Waltrip said before running 32nd in qualifying for Saturday's race. "The good thing is this isn't happening today.

"I want "Victory Tour 2000' to be a celebration for the fans," he said, "and I want it to be fun and exciting for me and my sponsors."

To that end, a tribute to Waltrip will be held during Speedweeks before the 2000 Daytona 500. And, in natural NASCAR fashion, merchandise commemorating the occasion will be sold and No. 66 collectible cars will be marketed aggressively.

"My racing career has been a fun ride," said Waltrip, whose 29th Cup season will be his last. "But we aren't calling it "Victory Tour 2000' just because I have 84 victories. I consider my greatest victory to be the love and support I receive from family. My wonderful wife and two beautiful girls are the reasons I've had a fulfilling career."

Some say he finished fulfilling it a long time ago. Still, Waltrip has proven proficient over the years.

Though winless since 1992 and without a top-10 finish in '99, the three-time Winston Cup champion (1981, '82 and '85) is one win shy of third in all-time Cup victories.

OOPS: Still recuperating from left-knee damage that required surgery and a broken left wrist sustained during a July 2 crash before the Pepsi 400 at Daytona, Mark Martin hoped for a wreck-free week.

"The biggest thing is to get through the race at Indy," he said, "without having an accident."

So much for that: As outside pole-sitter Martin left the track Rusty Wallace entered and struck Martin's car broadside.

"They were letting everybody off of Turn 1 so all the cars on the infield could pull out. These guys here (on pit road) took off like I normally would do, and then they released us down there (toward Turn 1), and as we pulled out, I don't think they ever thought we were gonna be pulling out.

"It wasn't Mark's fault; it wasn't my fault. If anything, you could maybe blame the stop-and-go guys at the end."

The right-front fender of Wallace's car was damaged, as was Martin's left door. Neither was injured, and both cars should be good to go Saturday.

LESS INTIMIDATING: Dale Earnhardt is sporting a look last seen from him in 1982.

The Intimidator has shaved his trademark mustache, supposedly because a face mask would fit properly while snorkeling recently in the Bahamas.

It is no wonder he kept the mustache so long. The last season Earnhardt drove without it, he had a career-worst 18 DNFs.

IROC FIELD SET: IRL driver Eddie Cheever Jr. has the pole for today's fourth and final race in the IROC series. Earnhardt starts last in the 12-car field, but with a win he would become the first driver to sweep the series.

He claimed his last IROC victory July 27 at Michigan, edging son Dale Earnhardt Jr.

"Hopefully, with a little luck," Dale Jr. said, "me and my old man can battle it out again."

Also in the field is CART star Greg Moore, who was uninjured after crashing into the inside retaining wall in practice this week.

"After what I did," Moore said, "I've just got to make sure I stay out of trouble."

_ TIM BUCKLEY

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