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Published: Monday, 7/4/2011

Earnhardt no fan of joined-together strategy

ASSOCIATED PRESS
It was two-by-two early at Daytona for the teams of Jeff Burton (31) and Clint Bowyer (33), and that of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., (88) and Jimmie Johnson (48) as drivers ride bumpers. It was two-by-two early at Daytona for the teams of Jeff Burton (31) and Clint Bowyer (33), and that of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., (88) and Jimmie Johnson (48) as drivers ride bumpers.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Dale Earnhardt, Jr., made it clear he's no fan of the current style of restrictor plate racing before he even arrived at Daytona International Speedway.

"I'm not looking forward to going to Daytona, not with the way the drafting is there," he said a week before Saturday's race.

"It's really weird and kinda wrong on some levels to race that way," he said.

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 Earnhardt's chance to win.

"I am really ticked off. It was a foolish ... race. I don't know what to tell you," he fumed. "I don't like this kind of racing and you know it."

There once was a time when Earnhardt didn't 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. That's how he did it 10 years ago, on his first visit to the track following his father's fatal accident in the 2001 Daytona 500. And that's how he did it 17 months ago, when he charged from 10th to second in the breathtaking final two laps of the season-opener.

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 he's 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 before they got to Daytona.

Maybe Earnhardt would have felt differently had the outcome been a little better last night. But as winner David Ragan made his move toward the front with teammate Matt Kenseth, the Earnhardt-Johnson duo was mired in traffic.

Then they were separated when Johnson ducked onto pit road, but Earnhardt stayed on the track.

"I'm driving my car, do what I'm told," Earnhardt said. "They decided to do something different. I can't run the whole damn thing from the seat of the damn race car. I'm just doing what I'm told out there. I don't know how that affected us, if it did at all."



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