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The way things went in the opening practice for Saturday's Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis, it appears Fords are the cars to beat -- again.

Led by defending race champion Dale Jarrett, Ford drivers had four of the top five practice laps.

Jarrett, coming off a victory two weeks ago at Pocono, led the way with a lap of 178.98 mph, followed by teammate Ernie Irvan at 177.943. Wally Dallenbach Jr. was third in a Chevy Monte Carlo at 177.144, with Thunderbird drivers Ted Musgrave and Lake Speed close behind at 176.908 and 176.706.

Despite this success, the Thunderbird is headed for extinction in NASCAR's Winston Cup series and will be replaced by the Taurus next season.

On-track testing is expected to begin within weeks.

Ford will stop production of the two-door Thunderbird at the end of this year.

"Although the Thunderbird has been a very successful car, as evidenced by the 11 wins this season, we feel it's important to race what we sell in the marketplace," Ford racing director Bruce Cambern said.

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