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No Substitute for Experience

Two of the top qualifiers, Said and Fellows, are filling in for regular NASCAR drivers because of their success in road racing.

June 22, 2003|Shav Glick | Times Staff Writer

SONOMA, Calif — Hard-core NASCAR followers, used to seeing such names as Gordon, Earnhardt and Wallace at the top of their Winston Cup race lineups, may be excused if they need a double-take for today's Dodge/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway.

Names foreign to them, Boris Said and Ron Fellows, refugees from sports car racing, will start first and third, respectively. Second, alongside Said, will be Robby Gordon, a Winston Cup regular who is better remembered for his off-road exploits.

Farther back in the grid are more familiar names.

Rusty Wallace, a two-time winner here when the track was known as Sears Point, will start seventh. Jeff Gordon, the four-time Winston Cup champion and a three-time winner here, is eighth.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., everyone's favorite as the flamboyant son of the late, great Dale Earnhardt, is 11th.

Said and Fellows are in the race as hired guns, brought in for their road racing experience as replacements for drivers who do not choose to embarrass themselves on a twisting road course that requires right-hand turns and downshifts while negotiating 11 turns on a two-mile hillside circuit.

Said, the colorful and controversial defending Trans-Am champion from Carlsbad, surprised even himself by winning the pole Friday with a track record speed of 93.620 mph in the No. 01 U.S. Army Pontiac.

"Hey, I get to go to Daytona in February," he said, alluding to the Bud Shootout for the previous year's pole winners a week before the Daytona 500.

"I never in my wildest dreams ever thought I'd beat the Winston Cup regulars to the pole.

"The regulars will take over in the race, I'm not fooling myself about that. I would be ecstatic if I finished in the top five and happy if I'm in the top 10."

Said, 40, got the ride in the Army car as a replacement for Mike Wallace, who is a replacement for Jerry Nadeau, the team's regular driver, who is recovering from life-threatening injuries after an accident earlier in the year.

"This is not the way you want to get a ride, but I accepted the position and will do everything I can to keep the U.S. Army car running up front," Said said. "My biggest problem will be to keep patient.

"In the past I've been like a kid who has never seen an ice cream sundae before he gets one. It's hard to eat it slow.

"I love to drive fast, and in the past, I've had a tendency to drive a little too aggressive and sometimes that hurt me. Hopefully, Ryan [crew chief Ryan Pemberton] and Roman [spotter Roman Pemberton] can keep me under control."

Said has driven in six Winston Cup races since 1999 with a best finish of eighth in 2001 at Watkins Glen, N.Y.

He tuned up for today's race by finishing second Saturday to Winston Cup regular Kevin Harvick in a 65-lap Southwest Series race.

Said, whose bushy hair makes him one of racing's most recognizable personalities, will also drive in today's Trans-Am race, which follows the Winston Cup.

It will be his first time back in the series after a 45-day suspension for remarks said to be derogatory to Trans-Am management.

Following Friday's time trials, when it became official that Said was the pole winner, all of his crew donned Afro-style wigs as a tribute to their driver when they greeted him in the pits.

Fellows, 43, a Canadian who drove a Corvette last week in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, will be driving the No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet for Dale Earnhardt Inc.'s team in place of Jeff Green.

"It's been a goal of mine for a long time to win a Winston Cup race and getting a ride in a DEI car is the best opportunity I've ever had," said Fellows, who has five wins in NASCAR races, three in the Busch series and two in the Craftsman Truck series. He finished second to Jeff Gordon in 1999 at Watkins Glen.

Farther down the grid of 43 are two more hired guns, veteran Scott Pruett at No. 18 and rookie Johnny Miller, making his first Winston Cup start, at No. 36. Two others, P.J. Jones and ice racer Paul Menard, failed to qualify.

Although not listed as a fill-in driver, Christian Fittipaldi will be in only his second race after replacing the fired John Andretti in Richard Petty's fabled No. 43 Dodge.

Fittipaldi, nephew of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi, is the first Brazilian to drive in Winston Cup, although his countrymen dominate open-wheel racing in both the Indy Racing League and CART.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

The Facts

*--* * What: NASCAR Dodge/Save Mart 350 * When: Today, Channel 11, 12:30 p.m * Where: Infineon Raceway (permanent road course, 1.99 miles, 10 turns); Sonoma, Calif * Race distance: 219 miles, 110 laps * 2002 winner: Ricky Rudd * Next race: Pepsi 400, July 5, Daytona Beach, Fla

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