Rusty Wallace, who has never posed much of a threat to winning the Daytona 500, took a serious step in that direction Friday by running the fastest lap during the final day of practice before today’s pole qualifying at Daytona Beach, Fla.
Wallace, in a Ford Thunderbird, lapped the high-banked, 2 1/2-mile Daytona International Speedway tri-oval at 189.187 mph as 50 cars opened NASCAR’s Winston Cup season with the first official practice. In 14 appearances, Wallace has never finished better than seventh in the 500.
John Andretti, who had been fastest in preseason unofficial laps, was second at 188.826. Andretti was also in a T-Bird. Dale Earnhardt, last year’s pole sitter, was 10th fastest at 187.915 in a Chevrolet Monte Carlo.
Only the two cars in the front row will qualify today. All the others must return Thursday to earn their starting positions for the Feb. 16 race in twin 125-mile races.