Brake lights are out at wide-open Daytona


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Most of the 42 drivers in tomorrow's 34th Daytona 500 will have their right foot pressed flat to the floorboard.

"You're forced to drive these cars wide-open," said Ford driver Mark Martin, who will be in Row 3 when the race starts at noon. "You can't afford to lift your foot, because you can't afford to get left behind. What that means is you are forced to drive into situations you know you may not be able to handle -- with the gas pedal flat on the floor."

Flat-out. That's how anyone who wants to win drives this race. Brakes? They work best when they're not used at all.

With carburetor restrictor plates -- which are routine at Daytona and Talledega with their high-banked ovals -- choking down the engine and limiting the power supply, drivers say they have no choice.

Some drivers fear the wrecks that can result; others are infuriated by them.

"To me, Daytona is always scary," Harry Gant said. "I always start the 500 thinking about where the big wreck is going to happen and about how the smoke is going to be blinding and how I'm not going to be able to see anything."

Thursday, during the 125-mile qualifying races, Dale Earnhardt and Sterling Marlin demonstrated what can happen when things go wrong.

Marlin, the pole-sitter for the Daytona 500, says Earnhardt intentionally ran into his rear bumper and knocked him off the track.

Earnhardt says it was not intentional, but Marlin still was angry yesterday.

"I don't know if he thinks the way he is driving is intimidating," Marlin said. "But I've lost a lot of respect for Dale. . . . I don't know what to expect him to do Sunday."

Tomorrow, Marlin will be right in front of Earnhardt on the opening lap. "I really didn't do it intentionally," Earnhardt said. "His car got a little loose and he slowed a little. I hit the brakes, but I had a head of steam. There wasn't any time to do anything else."

Earnhardt, who will drive his GM Goodwrench Chevrolet tomorrow, is perhaps the most daring driver of all of them.

Yesterday, while driving a Dodge Daytona, he won the International Race of Champions with an incredible low dive toward the track apron. He, Ricky Rudd and Gant roared three-abreast toward the finish line out of Turn 4.

Earnhardt won and Rudd and Gant finished in a second-place photo finish that was so indecipherable they were declared co-second-place finishers.

But such close, clean finishes are not always the case.

"No one's car is handling good in traffic," Marlin said. "But the only thing I care about is winning the Daytona 500. When I'm 60, if I haven't won this race, I'll still be dreaming about winning it."

"The only restriction," said Kyle Petty, who will try to make it to the front from his 17th-row starting spot, "is what you feel in your rear end when you're driving the car -- and however much your heart can take."

NOTES: Earnhardt averaged 182.556 mph in the IROC race. There were 18 lead changes among five drivers in the first event of the four-race IROC series, which pits the best drivers of all major classes of motor sports against each other in equally prepared cars. . . . Former Winston Cup champ Terry Labonte says if there is a guy here with a Ford who can't make it go 192 mph, "they should take it away from him." . . . Dale Jarrett, when asked how his car owner, Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, took Thursday's 125-mile accident, replied: "He told me I'd just cost him his $36,000 payoff check from the Super Bowl." . . . Maxie Bush won the 14th annual Florida 200 NASCAR Dash. He averaged 130.909 mph and earned $11,750.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad