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It's a chess game out there


© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 6, 2001

In the competitive world of Winston Cup racing, drivers rely not only on talent and fast cars to get them to the front of the pack but also on tricks they've learned over the years, including:

HAND SIGNALS: An integral part of on-track communication, hand signals often are used as a form of deception. Drivers point right or left to tell those behind them which side is safe for a pass or when to go slow. Some say there's a 50 percent chance the signal giver is telling the truth. When he's not, an unsuspecting follower can follow a bad signal out of the draft and lose crucial position, especially at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, where cars move in packs.

THE PIT ROAD FAKE: Like the oft-used pickoff move in baseball, where the pitcher fakes a throw to third and then turns to throw the runner out at first, drivers try to fake out their counterparts by pretending to duck onto pit road in the hope those behind will follow. Crews will sometimes stand on the pit road wall with tires, gas and air guns in hand to give the appearance that the faker will pit. Sometimes it works, but most times it doesn't. When it does, it can rid a driver of his closest competition.

DRIVING LINES: A driver can lull his competitors into a false sense of security by taking the same driving line around the track lap after lap. Opponents figure he can't pass without deviating from that line. Much to their surprise, a driver with a car that is handling well can pass just about anywhere on the track.

FALSE START: You'll hear television announcers say a driver missed a shift when he slows on the restart for a caution. Although that does happen, it's not the case all the time. Drivers sometimes let off the gas or slam on the brakes to slow everybody behind them, hoping a split-second more of acceleration can put enough distance between themselves and their competitors to negate a challenge.

- Compiled by Kevin Kelly with help from Elliott Sadler, driver of the No. 21 Ford.

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