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In one of the most bizarre racing incidents, the pace car was involved in a crash during a caution period in Saturday's ARCA FirstPlus Financial 200 at Daytona International Speedway.

Driver Joe Cooksey's Chevrolet smashed into the back of the Pontiac Grand Prix pace car during a caution that resulted from another car's spin on lap 57 of the 80-lap event. The crash totaled the pace car, valued at about $30,000.Pace car driver Jack Wallace, 53, was transported to Halifax Medical Center by ambulance after complaining of a stiff neck. X-rays proved negative, and he was released.

Passenger Buster Autin, who is the NASCAR Winston Cup pace car driver, was uninjured. Cooksey was not hurt. Only embarrassed.

``The pace car stopped right smack in the middle of the race track. There was nothing I could do,' said Cooksey, who is from Centralia, Ill. ``I slammed on the brakes and slid down the banking.'

ARCA officials were not available.

Cooksey estimated he was going 70 miles per hour, the mandated caution speed.

``It's may be the first time in history the pace car has been wiped out,' Cooksey said.

OOPS: Jeff Gordon messed up.

Gordon, who won the pole for next week's Daytona 500 on Saturday, made a mistake that cost him a chance for victory in Sunday's Bud Shootout.

The 25-lap all-star race for last year's pole winners requires each driver to pit midway through it for two tires.

Gordon entered the pits first and exited last.

He overshot his pit box by about a foot and didn't reverse the car before work began. That is a one-lap penalty. If a car overshoots its pit and is backed up before work begins, which is what happened with Ernie Irvan, no penalty is assessed. The driver must back up, not be pushed back by his pit crew.

``I don't overshoot very often, so it's something we're not always prepared for,' Gordon said. ``I blew reverse trying to get it backed up. It was my fault because I carried too much speed on pit road. I overheated the brakes. The pedal started going to the floor, and I started getting a little worried.'

PATIENT WINNER: It took him 113 tries, but Bobby Gerhart finally won his first career ARCA race, capturing the FirstPlus Financial 200. Shawna Robinson finished second with Bobby Hamilton, Jr., third.

Gerhart, who started second in the 41-car field, led the final 36 laps to collect a paycheck for $20,820.

CHAMPIONS WEEK: NASCAR announced Sunday a new program called Champions Week for the nation's short-track drivers in the Winston Racing Series.

The event will begin in November 2000 at a site to be determined.

This event will bring together the nation's top drivers in seven classes to compete. Those classes are: Grand American Modified, trucks, mini-stocks, charger, street stock and figure 8. Any driver in the top 20 in points at their track is eligible to compete in those events.

There also will be a special class called the Premier Division. It will be an IROC-like class where the cars are equally prepared. The 10 regional champions as well as the national champion will qualify for the 20-car race. There will be nine at-large spots.


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