The magical relationship between rookie driver Kevin Lepage and unsponsored car owner Joe Falk ended abruptly Saturday when Falk decided to use road racer Tom Kendall for today's Save-Mart 350 at Sears Point Raceway.
Kendall failed to qualify for the race in the No. 46 First Union Chevrolet owned by Felix Sabates. Lepage did not qualify for the race on his speed, but Falk's No. 91 Chevy made it into the 42nd starting spot using the sixth provisional starting spot.Falk had accepted the transfer of the First Union sponsorship for his car in a couple of other races this year, but this is the first time he took Sabates' driver, too. It came one day after Lepage confirmed that he had accepted a contract to drive for car owner Jack Roush in 1999, if not sooner.
Lepage, after an unusually successful run with Falk, decided he could not accept the one-race demotion and told Falk he was gone if Kendall took over.
``I don't want to have to worry if next week I go to Daytona and something happens to the car and we use a provisional and they put somebody else in the car,' Lepage said. ``I worked just as hard as everyone else to get a handle on this place and we just missed it. We missed it as a team.'
``Kevin said if we put Tommy in the car he was done,' Lepage said here Saturday. ``We're done. This is the best decision for LJ Racing. We can't afford to have a bad finish here. We need to run up front. That's all I'm trying to do. I'm doing what I think I have to do to run up front, just like Kevin thinks he had to go to Roush to run up front.'
Falk said he didn't know who he would put in the car for the Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway next weekend. might see if they'll let me drive at Daytona,' he quipped. ``I don't know who will drive our car next week. There won't be a lot of people available at Daytona, but we'll get something done.' telling Falk he was done, Lepage immediately paid a visit to Geoff Smith, Roush's business manager. Roush Racing, meanwhile, issued a press release confirming the contract with Lepage. The statement said Lepage will become the driver for ``one of its existing Winston Cup programs or in a new operation to be owned by its associate, the Wood Brothers Racing Team ...'
Smith said Roush Racing will help manage and operate a second team for the Wood Brothers and Lepage might drive that car. But he also said that Ted Musgrave, driver of the No. 16 Primestar Ford, has been told to start looking for other driving opportunities for the 1999 season. Of all the Roush drivers, ``he is under the most pressure,' Smith said.
As for Lepage and the rest of the 1998 season, Smith said, ``As a temporary thing, I think the best thing is to have to try to find individual rides.'
SECOND ROUND: Mark Martin led the second round of time trials here Saturday, circling the new Sears Point road course at a speed of 98.147 miles per hour to secure the 26th starting spot. Had he made that lap Friday, he would be starting fourth. of the drivers outside the top 25 stood on their time, so there was much activity in the second round. Ken Schrader was second fastest Saturday, followed by Rusty Wallace, Terry Labonte and Brett Bodine. starting spots went to Wally Dallenbach, Steve Grissom, Bill Elliott, Derrike Cope, Butch Gilliland, Dick Trickle and Lepage. Those who didn't make the race were Tom Kendall, Dave Marcis, Todd Bodine, Rick Ware and Chris Raudman. (As reported above, Kendall will replace Lepage in the race).
TRUCK RECOVERED: Roush Racing's Stephanie Smith reported Saturday that the company's Granger NASCAR show truck, which was stolen in suburban Detroit Friday, has been recovered. It was found in downtown Detroit, and it had been stripped, she said.
SOUTHWEST RACE: Ken Pedersen won the NASCAR Southwest Tour Yahoo Sports 200 Saturday after Tom Hubert was given a late-race stop-and-go penalty for spinning Steve Portenga out of the lead. Kenny Shepherd finished second, followed by Kurt Busch, Chris Raudman and Bob Lyon. Portenga finished seventh. Hubert finished ninth.