DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Richard Petty was so upset, he really didn’t even want to talk about it.Yet a few feet away in the garage at Daytona International Speedway, Robbie Loomis stood and adopted an opposite position. Loomis happens to be the director of competition for Richard Petty Motorsports and one of Petty’s closest confidants and advisors.
Johnson and Allmendinger work in tandem during the Duel. (Autostock)
The debate was over the style of racing that has presented itself this past week at Daytona, particularly that which was on display during Thursday’s two 150-mile Gatorade Duel qualifiers. Up and down the garage and in the media center, the debate over whether it was good racing or not proceeded to rage as Thursday spilled over into Friday and anticipation continued to build for this Sunday’s 53rd running of the Daytona 500.
Shortly after Thursday’s first Duel, Petty was asked innocuously what he thought of all the two-car drafting that made up the 500 qualifying race. Petty replied tersely that he couldn’t stand it and that he was “ashamed to be a part of it.”Loomis tempered Petty’s criticism by saying he slowly was getting a feel for what he has been watching unfold on the 2.5-mile race track. Cars teamed up in two-car drafts, but most were repeatedly forced to switch who was running in front and who was running behind every handful of laps in an effort to keep their engines from overheating (those driving Fords, apparently because of a superior cooling system in their new FR-9 engines, appeared to be the glaring exceptions).“You know what? The other night, I wasn’t sure about it when I watched the [Bud] Shootout,” Loomis said. “But I’m going to be honest with you. Looking at it from a car owner’s perspective, I almost like it a little bit better because the cars get a little bit more separated and it’s more of a thinker’s chess match of making sure you’ve got someone you’re working with right and switching [which car is in front and which is in the rear, pushing in the draft].“I saw when [RPM driver A.J.] Allmendinger was working with Jimmie [Johnson] and we got up to the front pack, there are some things you have to do as a real driver to keep yourself in that position. Because we lost it one time and A.J. learned from it before getting back up there.”Petty didn’t go into great detail about why he was so upset with it. He said only, “I wasn’t upset with our car. I was upset with the whole thing. Did you watch the race?”And he wasn’t alone. Fellow car owner and former crew chief Frank Stoddard didn’t like it at all, either.“You want the truth?” Stoddard said. “I’ve been coming here since 1985, and those were the worst two 150-mile qualifying races I’ve ever watched down here.”Pressed on why he felt so strongly that way, Stoddard added: “I just don’t think it’s racing. It’s not even that. Guys are switching positions out there on the pace laps to get with who they want to get with and stuff. You’ve got multi-car teams [whose drivers] are talking on the radio to one another. I mean, you’ve got three or four guys talking to each other; they’re not even talking to their spotters. That’s just not what I was raised to go and do. I just think it’s a ridiculous form of racing.”But others fell more on the Loomis side of reasoning, including former driver and longtime race broadcaster Ned Jarrett, who recently was voted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.“It was a little surprising, honestly, to come here and see what’s happening,” Jarrett said. “But no one really knew what to expect with the new pavement. The track was paved back in 1979 and I don’t remember it being that big of a deal back then. But back then, [the repaving] didn’t take out a lot of the characteristics of the track — all the bumps and everything — that it did this time.“It has so much more grip than it’s ever had before — and that’s why they’re able to do what they’re doing out there. Apparently it’s the best way to get around the race track now. Racers will always find a way to get around the race track fastest. Whatever the circumstances are, they’ll find a way to do it. And now it looks like two cars hooking up together are the fastest way to get around here.”Jarrett said he enjoyed watching Thursday’s Duel races.“What will it do for the overall race team? Well, first of all, it’s fascinating. It’s interesting. And certainly very challenging to the drivers and the crews — and that’s what racing is all about, a challenge,” Jarrett said. “I sort of like a change, but I also like to see the big bunches of cars running together. We’re still seeing a lot of lead changes and a lot of strategy involved.”Jarrett was on hand Friday with others from his Hall of Fame class which will be inducted this May. True to form, not even all of them could agree on whether Thursday’s racing could be classified as good or bad.“The people I’ve been talking to, none of them like it,” David Pearson said. “Some of the drivers say they like it, but deep down they don’t. The only one I’ve heard who really likes to run like that and said he really enjoyed it was Kyle Busch. And you know how he runs anyway — wide-open. But I think if somebody got behind him that he didn’t know that well or didn’t have that much experience running that fast, even he won’t like it. If the guy in front has to slow down for anything at all, the guy behind has already hit him and that’s going to spin both of them out.“I wouldn’t have enjoyed this kind of racing. And if I was doing it, I would want to be behind and not in front — at least until the last lap.”Former car owner Bud Moore added: “Well, to me, I don’t like the new style of racing we’re seeing this week that good and I don’t think the spectators are going to like it too good. But we’ll have to wait until Sunday to see how it all comes off, and it might be better than you think it’s going to be. I think this two-car deal, the way they’ve been running it, I don’t think it’s the way to go.“I don’t think it’s racing the way it should be — because the guy that’s behind the guy in front can’t see because of the rear spoiler and stuff in the back. That’s blocking his view, so he can’t tell what’s happening out in front. He could be pushing that car right into a wreck and he wouldn’t even be knowin’ it.”* Sound Off: Jarrett, Allison on today’s NASCAR, Hall of Fame classLoomis contended that it merely is different than what everyone is used to seeing, not necessarily a sub-standard form of racing.“Right now it’s just more of a calculated race,” Loomis said. “It reminds me of Bristol before it was paved to after it was paved, when it was concreted. It used to be you’d go to Bristol and you were on the edge of your seat every lap. And after it was concreted, from a car owner’s standpoint, it’s better racing. [Thursday’s] deal was real calculated, the way you had to do these two-car drafts and really put yourself in position to do it.“The unique thing about it is you can be working with the best teammate in the world and doing it right all day long, and then you get a restart and all of a sudden he’s on the inside row and you’re on the outside row and it changes the whole dynamic of the race. All of a sudden you’re working with somebody else. It’s just, to me, a lot different. In the past you always had a real good feel for how the race was going to play out, and this is just different.”Carl Edwards said Loomis is right about having everything possibly change in an instant during Sunday’s 500.“That’s likely to happen Sunday,” Edwards said. “You might work with a guy for three hours. Then it could change all of a sudden — and you’d better learn to like that other guy real fast.”Jarrett added that he believes the form of racing on display Thursday that is expected this Sunday could actually turn out to be a blessing for the sport.“I think that the drivers and the crew members, the spotters … everybody who has a part in that car on race day, or even building up to race day, it has presented a special challenge for them. And I think that’s good. I don’t see anything wrong with that,” Jarrett said. “The unexpected is what causes things to be great, or to be good. I know I keep using the word ‘challenge’ but I think that word best describes what their facing to put on the best show for the fans, along with the challenge of beating everyone else on the track. I think it’s going to go down as one of the more memorable Daytona 500s.”]]]]> ]]>
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