Daytona Notebook: Saturday

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Richard Petty caught some flak for voicing his opinion that the NASCAR community needed to move on from the Dale Earnhardt tragedy.

Upon returning to Daytona this weekend for the Pepsi 400, however, nearly every driver has expressed similar sentiments.

“Richard’s had to deal with a lot of death in his family,” said Mark Martin. “I’ve had to deal with a lot of death in my family over the past two and a half years. We have all dealt with it. None of us are insensitive. None of us are superhuman. We’re just regular old human beings with emotion.

“A lot of us would rather keep an eye on the target.”

That “target” is racing, simply racing. Drivers would rather not have to answer questions about Earnhardt or his death. Many have mourned enough, Martin said.

“It was a horrific week after the 500,” said Martin, whose quotes are similar to those of numerous drivers. “Nobody is forgetting about Dale Earnhardt. It will never happen. At the same, most of the competitors really wanted to come here and run a race rather than dredge through this.”

Martin, as gently as he could, doesn’t want to forget Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin or Tony Roper – NASCAR drivers who were killed last year. All the attention on Earnhardt, he said, has made some forget about the other three.

“It feels like it’s taken away from that, too,” Martin said. “In some ways, it’s being disrespectful to the others we’ve lost by just focusing on that. I’d like to bring that point up, as well. I feel horrible that it happened.”

Mostly, Martin felt for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“I do have more allegiance to Dale Earnhardt Jr. than I do to anyone else – I’m a son that lost a father,” Martin said. “I really, really am concerned with how he feels. I would rather someone else be offended than him be bombarded. I know the pain he feels.”

Hopefully, as many drivers stated, Earnhardt Jr.'s win can provide some closure for everybody.

Martin Wears HANS: After the Daytona 500, Martin said he’d be the last driver to wear the HANS device. Well, he’s not. Seems a race in April convinced him to try the head-and-neck restraint system.

“Talladega was coming,” Martin said. “I knew for a fact that I was going to need it. Texas has been known for blowing out right-front tires, and that really hurts. I said, I’ll wear it at Texas because that would be good and that would tell me what kind of tune-ups I’d need for Talladega.”

Martin said he didn’t wear it at Martinsville or Sears Point, and he probably won’t wear it at Watkins Glen or Bristol. But he’ll have it on everywhere else. There’s only one problem. Martin, who had back surgery before the 2000 season, has trouble getting out of his car with it on.

“I messed around and tried to get out at Talladega with mine on,” Martin said. “I got my back reared up, and for 12 weeks I was in misery. I’m not even going to try to get out.

“If I get caught on fire, I will get out with it on – unpracticed. Otherwise, I’ll take it off… It does definitely delay my exiting the race car.”

Say Hi to Flipper: Jeff Burton called Tony Stewart “Flipper” for Stewart’s rollover crash in the Daytona 500. Stewart didn’t seem to mind, just as he’s not shaken by returning to Daytona after that grinding crash.

“I’ve crashed a lot worse in a lot different types of cars,” Stewart said. “It’s just one more for the highlight reel, I guess. It’s something to show my grandkids… if I live that long.”

Harvick Health: Kevin Harvick is trying to complete the full schedules in both Winston Cup and the Busch Series. But he’s not meeting with a personal trainer or nutritionist in an effort to stay in shape. He says he doesn’t need that.

“I learned all that in high school when I was in wrestling,” Harvick said. “I learned about my nutrition and about what I needed to eat to stay in shape. I’m not saying I know everything there is to know about it, but I know enough to understand how it all works.”

During the offseason, Harvick said he worked out in a gym with a trainer from Richard Childress Racing. Plus, he watches what he eats.

“I’m a regular at the GNC store,” Harvick said. “I have more herbs and vitamins than you can imagine. I think that really keeps me where I need to be on the diet side of it. I’m 25. If I can’t handle this, I probably need to find something else to do.”

Marlin/Earnhardt Fans: Sterling Marlin was the target of some threats by a few Dale Earnhardt fans following the Daytona 500, but things have cooled off for Marlin since.

“Everybody went back and watched what happened,” Marlin said. “It’s been 100 percent positive. Tons of Earnhardt fans sent me mail or would come up to me in the garage area or fan club meetings or whatever and apologize. They didn’t do it, but they were apologizing for the few that did.”

Lots of Dodges: Marlin led a Dodge sweep of the top four qualifying positions for the race, and that made some Dodge executives quite happy.

“I’ll have to confess. I left the track with some of our folks,” said Bob Wildberger, Dodge’s senior manager for NASCAR operations. “We had another meeting, and we were sweating it out. We were at a reception watching TV, and we were trying to figure out what was going on (during the rain delay). We finally said to heck with everything else, and we came back to the track to find out what happened, and we were ecstatic when we found out. It was a great surprise.

“I think this is another testimony to the single team concept we’ve talked about. We’re trying to figure out what to do to make all the Dodges run good, and everybody is helping each other. What a wonderful and remarkable surprise to get the Top 4. That’s more than anyone would expect, and it’s just a great, great surprise, especially at Daytona.”

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