NASCAR: Dale furious, frustrated at Daytona
Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 3, 2011
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. ó Dale Earnhardt Jr. made it clear heís no fan of the current style of restrictor plate racing before he even arrived at Daytona International Speedway.
ěIím not looking forward to going to Daytona, not with the way the drafting is there,î he said a week before Saturday nightís race.
ěItís really weird and kinda wrong on some levels to race that way,î he said the day the track opened.
But if there was any doubt, he ended it after a frustrating 19th-place finish that had his passionate army of fans accusing Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson of sabotaging Earnhardtís chance to win.
ěI am really ticked off. It was a foolish … race. I donít know what to tell you,î he fumed. ěI donít like this kind of racing and you know it.î
Earnhardt didnít appear to be ěticked offî at Johnson, the teammate he partnered with for the second consecutive plate race. He had pushed Johnson to the win at Talladega in April, and Johnson said all week he was willing to return the favor at Daytona.
There once was a time when Earnhardt didnít need help to win at Daytona, when he could just slice his way to the front and hold off a train of traffic in the closing laps. Thatís how he did it 10 years ago, on his first visit to the track following his fatherís fatal accident in the 2001 Daytona 500. And thatís how he did it 17 months ago, when he charged from 10th to second in the breathtaking final two laps of the season-opener.
But the racing has changed dramatically since then, and drivers now need to create a two-car hookup to get around Daytona. They use one spotter, with the lead driver taking traffic signals, guiding the trailing driver, who is stuck in a perpetual blind spot as heís glued to the rear bumper.
The tandem racing debuted at the start of the season, was elevated to a more sophisticated level at Talladega, and led almost every driver to pick a partner and devise a strategy even before they got to Daytona.
ěIíd rather have control of my own destiny and be able to go out there and race and just do my own work and worry about my own self,î Earnhardt said on Thursday. ěBeen growing up all these years raciní for No. 1, lookiní out for No. 1, doing my job. This is what I need to do, I need to do this to get up through the pack. This is how my car drives. Now you are doing it so different. Your thought process and everything you think about during the race is nothing near that.
ěIt is just different and weird.î
Maybe Earnhardt would have felt differently had the outcome been a little better Saturday night. But as winner David Ragan made his move toward the front with teammate Matt Kenseth, the Earnhardt-Johnson duo found itself mired in traffic.
Then they were separated when Johnson ducked onto pit road, but Earnhardt stayed on the track. It was obviously botched communications that sunk their chances at the win.
ěIím driving my car, do what Iím told,î Earnhardt said. ěThey decided to do something different. I canít run the whole damn thing from the seat of the damn race car. Iím just doing what Iím told out there. I donít know how that affected us, if it did at all. It probably didnít.î
Johnson, apparently getting blasted on Twitter from angry JR Nation fans, posted on his page immediately after the race that he ědidnít leave Jr hangingî and crew chiefs Steve Letarte and Chad Knaus make the decisions.
ěYou people are crazy,î he wrote on Twitter. ěWhen my crew tells me to pit, I pit. Steve and Chad sort out the details.î
But that wasnít even what ruined Earnhardtís race. It came later, on the final two-lap sprint, when he said Jamie McMurray drove into the side of his Chevrolet and turned him.
ěI had it saved, and then he came on and got him another shot,î Earnhardt said. ěBrought the KO. punch the second time and spun us around.î
The style of racing wonít change before NASCAR goes to Talladega in October, when drivers, maybe even Earnhardt, will be competing for the Sprint Cup championship. Each move will be critical, and every driver will be dependent on someone else.
Itís not comfortable for Earnhardt, and he doesnít think itís suitable. Heís the most outspoken driver about the current state of plate racing, but heís definitely not alone.
ěItís so hard to see how many hours these (crew) guys put into these cars, to have it torn up in the blink of an eye like that,î Johnson said. ěBut it is what it is and weíll just go on to the next one.î