Schrader Goes From Fastest to Last and Then Nearly Does It in Reverse


He took his bows, shook hands with race queens and acknowledged the applause due him for sitting in the pole position for Sunday's Daytona 500 for the third consecutive year.

Shortly after noon, Ken Schrader led a multicolored two-line convoy of 42 cars out of pit road, into the first turn and around the track in a ritual pre-race lap. Just past the start/finish line, he pulled his Chevrolet aside and watched like a New Year's Day patron on Pasadena's Colorado Boulevard as the parade passed him by on the final lap before the start of the race.

He had the pomp of sitting on the pole at Daytona, but circumstances demanded Schrader start Sunday's race on the back row after wrecking his car on the final lap of the first 125-mile qualifying race on Thursday.

Schrader stepped into a new car, a back-up machine and dismissed the whole thing as ill fortune to be overcome in the next 500 miles.

"This was not the car we wanted to race in the Daytona 500," he said. "If we thought this was our best car, we would have started the race with it. . . . Nobody ever says their car is 'Ready.' Everyone says, 'This car is as good as I think I can get it.' "

The car was good. It was not good enough long enough.

Schrader moved through the field, passing six cars before the first turn of the first lap and another before the field had completed a circuit of the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway.

Two laps later, he was 31st and by the eighth lap he was 22nd, picking off cars one at a time and in bunches.

Staying low, the white car with the green lettering tacked onto Richard Petty and continued to climb through the field. Running 13th on the 16th lap, he decided Petty wasn't going fast enough and passed him on turn three. By the 18th lap, Schrader was 10th.

"We'd all better look out when (Schrader's No.) 25 gets up close," said Richard Childress, crew chief for Dale Earnhardt.

Schrader moved through the lead draft, passing several cars, including eventual race-winner Derrike Cope's.

"He was strong. He was definitely strong," said Cope. "I wanted to get on with him (in a draft), but I was running loose and I had to let him go. When he moved up on Dale, I thought that was it, that it was going to be a two-car race."

Schrader twice climbed onto Earnhardt's bumper. Suddenly on the 57th lap, a puff of smoke came from the back of Schrader's car, the sign of a motor deciding to take the rest of the day off.

Once again, he had to sit back and watch a parade go by.

The emotion that built in Schrader's crew as he sped through the field died quickly with the realization that their effort would not be rewarded.

"We had everybody outclassed power-wise," crew chief Richard Broome said. "There's no question about that. . . . Schrader said he was just sitting there riding. . . . We messed up the first pit stop and dropped back, and then watched him come back to the front and that made me feel great inside. But then watching it fall out of the race because of a parts failure takes something out of you."

Emotion aside, it took $366,050 out of the team's treasury. A victory paid $188,150 from Daytona's purse and $212,800 from an oil company that posted a bonus to a driver winning a NASCAR race from the pole position.

Instead, Schrader won $34,900 for finishing 40th and waxed cooly philosophical about the whole thing. He bridled only about questions as to whether or not his engine was abused on the stampede through the field.

"You don't use up the motor any more racing in the back of the pack," he said. "It was running real good. It just didn't run all day."

Slow pit work complicated his job. When Petty spun in the second turn, drawing a caution flag on the 28th lap, Schrader reached the pit in second place but left in 16th. He climbed back to second place on the 39th lap, using Earnhardt's draft to move past Bill Elliott.

A four-car crash on the 43rd lap led to another pit parade, Earnhardt taking 24.7 seconds to Schrader's 31.7. On the re-start, Schrader was back in 16th place.

Again, Schrader relentlessly pursued the leaders until the puff of smoke on turn two of the 57th lap signaled his quest was over.

It was an anticlimax to an eight-day span in which he made $8,500 for winning the pole and $50,000 for winning the Busch Clash.

"I guess I should feel more sorry, but . . . it hasn't been that bad of a week," he said. "This place don't owe us nothing. That's why we won all that other stuff earlier in the week. We're still leaving here with some money."

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