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NASCAR goes under the lights

By Herb Emory

The lights will be on for the Saturday night speed fights in Daytona. The second visit to Daytona always marks the unofficial half of the NASCAR season and there has been an extra element of excitement since the event was moved from the day into the night at the track.

The Firecracker 400 at Daytona was an annual tradition all through my childhood. The race used to be run on the Fourth of July and after the race someone would always be able to find some fireworks. NASCAR stopped the tradition of running the event on the holiday in 1987. It's been run on the Saturday closest to July 4th ever since.

It didn't take NASCAR long to see the lights that Bruton Smith had turned on in Charlotte. They knew quickly that moving the race into the night would be a sure way to pump up ticket sales and television ratings. The lights were used for the first time in 1999 and Dale Jarrett would make history as being the first driver to claim a nighttime win at Daytona.

They don't call Richard Petty "The King" for nothing. The seven-time champ still holds the win record for track his father, Lee, described as a "monster." The King claims 10 Daytona wins, including the last win of his career in 1984. President Ronald Reagan was celebrating the Fourth of July at the track when Petty made his last trip to Victory Lane.

Dale Jarrett has three Daytona 500 trophies from 1993, 1996 and 2000. His July win at the speedway came in 1999.

Jeff Gordon has two Daytona 500 and two Pepsi 400 wins. The 500 victories were in 1997 and 1999. He won the Pepsi 400 in 1995 and in 1998, the year wild fires in Florida postponed the event until October.

Michael Waltrip has emerged as the "hot" property in Daytona's recent history. Waltrip has claimed three checkered flags in the last five races at the track and two of those were Daytona 500 wins. Waltrip's first career win came in 2001 at the track and he finished second behind teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Pepsi 400 that year. He won last year's Pepsi 400 and started this season off win another Daytona 500 victory.

Awesome Bill Update: Georgia's Bill Elliott has four Daytona wins. He won the Daytona 500 in 1985 and 1987 and he won two of the July 400-mile races in 1991 and 1988. Bill has registered 15 top-five and 24 top-10 finishes in the 52 events he has competed in at the track. He has led at least one lap in 22 of those Daytona runs.

Jawga Boys: Joey Clanton looked like he was on a journey toward his first top-10 finish in the Busch Series at Milwaukee. Clanton had an excellent run going until he exited the pits a little too fast and another trip down pit road was the punishment for his offense.

Clanton dropped to 20th as a result. It was the Henry County driver's eighth Busch event in the TrimSpa-sponsored No. 27. Clanton is ranked 36th in Busch Series points as the teams head to Daytona for their Friday night run this week.

Cobb County's Bill Lester started 23rd and finished 12th in the Craftsman Truck Series race in Milwaukee. Lester is 13th in points as he prepares for a Saturday run in Kansas. There's also some "behind the wall" talk that Lester is about to become the newest member of the cereal box

Herb Emory, a traffic reporter and host of the Allan Vigil 120 racing show on WSB AM-750, is a guest columnist for The Daily. His column appears on Fridays.