Hamilton, Jr. starts season off with safe run in Daytona Beach
By Charlie Roakes
| Marine Corps Recruiting Command | February 17, 2004
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. --
For a driver with a passion for leading laps and winning races, the Hershey’s Kisses 300 brought a change of pace for Bobby Hamilton, Jr.
Since last June, the White House, Tenn., resident has been a fixture in the front of the pack, dominating the NASCAR Busch Series. Hopefully that will be the case beginning next week in Rockingham, N.C., but for Monday’s rain delayed NASCAR Busch Series season opener, Hamilton, Jr. took a different approach to the race.
After qualifying in the 26th position, Hamilton, Jr. decided to use a conservative strategy during the race and dropped back to the back of the field. The goal was to avoid the big, multi-car accidents that have become famous at Daytona. The strategy worked to perfection as a lap 12 accident eliminated nine drivers from contention for the win. Hamilton, Jr., with plenty of time to react to the accident, steered clear through the wreckage.
Soon after the accident, rain hit the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway, eventually postponing the race until Monday. When action resumed on Monday, Hamilton, Jr. stuck with his plan and managed to avoid a large multi-car accident on lap 42. From that point forward, Hamilton, Jr. began to charge forward and race his way into the lead pack.
Over the final half of the 120 lap race, Hamilton, Jr. raced as high as fifth place, picking and choosing his lines carefully in a race that was dominated by full-time Winston Cup drivers. A few close calls occurred for Hamilton, Jr. with cars jumping in front of the # 25 Team Marines Ford, at one point the # 60 car managed to make contact with Hamilton, Jr. causing sheet metal damage and hurting the aerodynamics on the # 25 Team Marines Ford. Despite the damage, Hamilton, Jr. continued his pursuit of the checkered flag.
Over the final 15 laps, a large pack of lapped cars managed to break up the 15 cars inside the lead draft, dropping Hamilton, Jr. into a second pack and out of contention for the win. As the checkered flag dropped across the field of cars, Hamilton, Jr. found himself in 13th place.
“This isn’t the way we like to race, but we stuck to our plan and brought the Team Marines Ford home in one piece,” Hamilton, Jr. said. “Now we can go to Rockingham and focus on leading laps and winning the race. I can’t wait until this weekend.”
The Team Marines Racing Team faces a short week with car inspections beginning on Thursday afternoon at The North Carolina Speedway. Crew Chief Harold Holly and the team will return to their Mooresville, N.C., shop tonight and begin final preparations on the Team Marines Ford Taurus for Saturday’s Goody’s Headache Powders 200. FX Network and Motor Racing Network will provide live coverage of the event at 1 p.m. Eastern Time EDT.