Earnhardt Vents Frustrations Over Restrictor Plates

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Gentlemen, start your tempers.

Actually, seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt didn't need any prompting as he prepared for Saturday night's Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

Overwhelmed by the frustrations of restrictor-plate racing, "The Intimidator" ripped NASCAR for intentionally slowing speeds on its fastest tracks and questioned the manhood of drivers who complain about the fast pace.

"I've heard some drivers saying, 'We're going too fast at Charlotte, we're going too fast here,'" Earnhardt said Friday during a spirited interview in his trailer. "If you're not a race car driver and not a racer, stay home. Get out of the race car if you've got feathers on your legs or butt."

Thus, the first major tantrum of what should be an interesting summer for stock car racing's top series.

Earnhardt enters the second half of the season trailing Bobby Labonte by 67 points in his quest for an unprecedented eighth Winston Cup title. In third place, and still within striking range, is defending champion Dale Jarrett.

But Earnhardt says the actual races, and not the points race, are what draw fans to the track. He says NASCAR's decision to install restrictor plates on cars at Daytona and Talladega has compromised the spirit of stock car racing.

"I think all the drivers and teams are frustrated with the way they have to race here," he said. "Have you heard a positive comment from anyone? I'm not condemning anybody. I wish there was another solution. I don't think anyone is happy doing what we're doing."

NASCAR began using restrictor plates on carburetors after a race at Talladega in 1987, when Bobby Allison's car went into a retaining fence at 210 mph, barely missing scores of fans.

The plates slowed speeds, but now the cars are bunched in large groups, racing two and three wide.

It makes for exciting racing, but some drivers feel it puts them in greater danger. Drivers also complain that, by essentially making all the cars equal, they can no longer avoid accidents, or make passing moves they way they could when the cars ran without restrictor plates.

Adding to the problems, NASCAR started issuing its own shocks at the fast tracks this year to change the handling on the cars. The result: Drivers had even more trouble going fast. In two qualifying sessions at Daytona this year -- this week and the Daytona 500 in February -- speeds were down an average of nearly 5 mph.

Also, Chevrolets like Earnhardt's have been redesigned for 2000. Only two Chevys will start in the top 15 in Saturday night's race. It added up to a venting of frustrations for Earnhardt.

"Are they going to pull the insurance if you run over 200 mph?" he said. "I'm just saying we need to grow up here and decide if we're going to race or what we're going to do. Right now, we're not racing. We're just existing on the track together."

NASCAR officials responded to complaints after the Daytona 500 by adjusting the shock rules for the DieHard 500 at Talladega in April. Instead of NASCAR-issued shocks on both ends of the cars, teams only have to use them on the back.

But further rule changes weren't possible, said senior vice president Mike Helton.

"We have to wait and see," Helton said. "It's too early to throw red flags right now."

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