DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ Right up there near the top of the speed charts in practice at Daytona International Speedway on Friday was a familiar name _ Ernie Irvan.

Irvan, who won the Daytona 500 in 1991, was back on the 2 1/2-mile, high-banked oval for the first time since July of 1994, six weeks before his near fatal accident at Michigan International Speedway.

His speed, 188.573 mph, was seventh-fastest. Two-time defending Daytona 500 champion Sterling Marlin was the quickest at 189.478.

``It's gone real well,'' said Irvan, who is back in the No. 28 Robert Yates Racing Ford Thunderbird this season. ``We didn't test here at all. We did all our testing at Talladega.''

His comeback late late season _ three races in a Yates car, teamed with his replacement and now teammate Dale Jarrett _ was successful beyond anybody's dreams. Irvan twice finished in the top 10 and led two of the three events.

His only lingering problem from the Aug. 20, 1994 crash in which he sustained critical head and chest injuries has been double vision in his left eye.

He returned to racing wearing a patch over the bad eye, then switched to a prism lens. On Dec. 14, Irvan underwent surgery to adjust his eye muscles and now has almost normal vision with only the normal corrective lenses in his eyeglasses.

``I can move my eyes about 20 degrees each way before I get any double vision,'' Irvan explained. ``But, in a race car, you usually move your head, not your eyes, so that's not a big problem unless they strap my head to the roll bar. Then I'd be in trouble.''

The 37-year-old Irvan no longer considers himself on the comeback trail.

``As far as my comeback, that's pretty well behind me. Now we can just go racing,'' he said. ``I'd hate to think about coming back cold right now. I'm really glad we took our time and I was patient. ... I feel like I'm pretty well ready.''


CHANGING TIRES: Goodyear, which will again be the sole tire supplier for NASCAR's Winston Cup, Busch and SuperTruck series, has made a major change in an effort to consolidate the huge program.

``Three years ago, we produced a left side and a right side for every doggone race in the series,'' said Phil Holmer, Goodyear's longtime stock car tire manager.

Bob Boehlefeld, chief engineer for product development, said, ``We've put a lot of effort, energy and planning to standardize our tire lineup based on general durability and performance requirements.

``As an example, last year for the 18 Winston Cup tracks, we used 36 different tire codes. The code is a unique combination of tire mold, construction and (rubber) compound. We've condensed that number down to 17 different, unique tires for the short tracks, road courses and superspeedways.

``It makes our business simpler and the team's business simpler,'' Boehlefeld added. ``When they go out to do a test _ a lot of times in the past we were changing tires so rapidly that we didn't have the proper tire to test on. This change allows the teams to have a more productive test. It also reduces the number of obsolete tires both in our inventory and the team's inventory.''

Among the 17 codes for this year are a handful of new ones, including a new tire for Daytona.

``Daytona is one place where we don't standardize,'' Boehlefeld said. ``The track is unique. It's got non-standard performance requirements. The keys here are the sustained tires loads, the sustained speeds, the track layout and the track surface conditions. We have a unique tire for Daytona.''


NUMBERS GAME: Sunday's Busch Clash, a 50-mile dash among last year's Winston Cup pole-winners for a total of $330,000, has the biggest field in its 18 years _ 17 drivers.

Those drivers total 5,472 NASCAR Winston Cup races _ led by wild-card entry Dave Marcis with 788 _ and total 81 years of experience, topped by Darrell Waltrip's 24 years. Bringing the average down in both categories is David Green, the leading Busch Series pole-winner, who has yet to run a Winston Cup event.

Among them, the Clash entries own 271 Winston Cup victories. Waltrip again leads the way with 84, while five of the entries have yet to win.