NASCAR

Geoffrey Bodine, the Pepsi 400's darkhorse favorite

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.

If you're looking for an upset pick in the 44th annual Pepsi 400 on July 6, then is the driver to watch. Bodine, driving the No. 09 Miccosukee Indian Gaming Ford, almost pulled off one of the biggest upsets in NASCAR Winston Cup Series history during February's Daytona 500 when he finished third behind winner and runner-up . On Tuesday, Bodine, the 1986 Daytona 500 champion, returned to Daytona International Speedway for a two-day test session with that same James Finch-owned car in hopes of pulling off a shocker in the Pepsi 400. He couldn't help but think about how close he was to a victory back in February. "I was happy (with third), but yeah, darn it, I wanted to win," Bodine said. "Up until that last caution and red flag, I really thought I had a chance. The car was absolutely perfect and was fast. Even with (Jeff) Gordon out there and Sterling (Marlin), I still thought I had a chance to win it." Other drivers testing on Tuesday at the Speedway included (subbing for the vacationing in the No. 49 BAM Racing Dodge), Kasey Kahne (wheeling the No. 98 Channellock Ford for Robert Yates Racing in the Busch Series) and Joe Ruttman (testing a Chevrolet and a Pontiac for Finch's Busch Series team and driver ). Despite sone rain showers, the teams were able to squeeze in some laps. In random hand-held times, Bodine was the fastest with a lap of 182.927 mph followed by Ruttman (182.186), Kahne (181.087) and Hornaday (180.000). For most of February's race, Bodine couldn't get his car to handle the way he wanted and ran at the tail end of the field. But after avoiding a 16-car accident on Lap 149, Bodine ducked into the pits to make some more adjustments and his crew finally hit on something. It put Bodine in the top 15 and a chance for a victory. "The car was just perfect," Bodine said. "You didn't have to think about lifting in the corners. You could go high, go low, just get out of my way, in the middle. The car was just flying." A multi-car incident in the tri-oval, including a tangle between race leader Gordon and Marlin, brought out the red flag on Lap 195. Bodine was sitting in the top five, but ran over a piece of debris after Marlin spun out Gordon. "When Gordon got spun around, something flew up and hit the car," Bodine said. "I right away radioed in and said guys we hit something. I didn't get out to look at my tires (during the red flag) but I didn't know how bad it hit the car." The piece of debris hit the left front and bent the air dam back towards the tires, but Bodine fought Sadler and Burton in the final four-lap shootout to the checkered flag and brought home a third-place finish. "It wasn't rubbing on the tires, but the car was wounded pretty bad," Bodine said. "I didn't know that on the restart. I had no idea. All I knew was I had to go. "Just thank God there wasn't any more laps left. I was going to lose more positions because the car was wounded." You wouldn't expect Finch's part-time team could compete for a victory in the competitive NASCAR Winston Cup Series. Finch runs a limited schedule with Bodine and has a limited Busch Series schedule set up with , but according to Bodine, he operates a race team the right way, especially on the superspeedways. "James spends the money," Bodine said. "He has good people. They put together a good speedway car with good engines. James likes to run up front." Testing continues on Wednesday and is free and open to the public with access to the Oldfield Grandstand through the lobby of DAYTONA USA. Tickets for the 44th annual Pepsi 400 and the STACKER 2/GNC Live Well 250 NASCAR Busch Series race are available online at Daytona International Speedway.com or by calling the Speedway ticket office at (386) 253-7223.

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