Fake pit stops to hand signals that cause wrecks, anything goes in Winston Cup.
By KEVIN KELLY
© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 6, 2001
DAYTONA BEACH -- He was a rookie with a perception of what his first Daytona 500 might hold.
That was Elliott Sadler's first mistake.
"Wow, did I get taken to school then," he said. "I wish I could've run the race, stopped and started over again. I would've been a whole lot better."
As Sadler found out en route to a 40th-place finish in his first Winston Cup race three years ago, drivers in NASCAR's top division will do just about anything to gain an advantage -- especially when the price of gaining or losing one position measures in the thousands of dollars.
"Everybody's ultimate goal is to get to the front," Sadler said. "You just don't want to make yourself the guinea pig for everybody else to be able to do that."
From hand signals to faking a pit stop, slowing on purpose to allow other cars to catch up or switching driving lines unexpectedly, there are numerous avenues for luring other drivers into costly mistakes during what amounts to a 200 mph game of chess.
Convincing somebody to expand on the topic, acknowledge it happens or identify the best in the business can prove difficult, however.
"There ain't no tricks to it," said Bobby Hamilton, who drives the No. 55 Chevrolet. "If you've got a fast car, you don't need to trick. If you don't have a fast car, a trick isn't going to help you because they're passing you anyhow."
Such wisdom doesn't prevent some from seeking that little advantage.
Obvious targets are newcomers and rookies, who stand out not only because of the bright yellow tape affixed to their rear bumpers but their inexperience on superspeedways.
"The first time I was in Daytona, nobody would go out and draft with me," driver John Andretti said. "I went and told Ken Schrader that I hated him, and he said, "Next year when those guys have that yellow stripe on their bumper, then you can do it to them. People don't want to draft with you because they don't know what you're like.' "
Jimmy Spencer believes even a veteran driver can be fooled.
"I don't want to say it's outsmarting somebody," said Spencer, who drives the No. 26 Ford and is nicknamed "Mr. Excitement" because of his often wild driving style. "I think it's more making a little mistake. It's more related to misjudging a corner a little bit or missing the line just a little.
"I don't think that's the proper word, saying you outsmarted somebody."
Hand signals are supposed to be used for safety purposes, to warn drivers to slow or to avoid trouble, because they can't communicate with each other via radio.
"You don't (trick people) with hand signals," Hamilton said. "They'll wreck your a--. That's bad. We do the hand signals for safety.
"The bad part about tricking somebody, if you do it, it becomes a safety factor. If there's a big wreck ahead and they don't believe you, the next thing you know, both of you are in the wreck. So we don't do anything to fool anybody."
"Especially at Daytona and Talladega when we're running two and three wide the whole time, there's a lot of hand signals going on," Sadler said. "Sixty percent of the time the guys are being truthful to you.
"You've got to know who to trust and who not to trust, use your head and see if the guys you're trying to work with are working against you."
Three-time NASCAR champion David Pearson was leading one Daytona 500 by such a great margin that he slowed and let seven-time Winston Cup champion Richard Petty catch up and pass him for drafting purposes.
The same tactic is used today.
"There's so many different angles of attack to try and win races and beat your competitor," Spencer said. "You never know what they're doing."
Who's the best at forcing mistakes?
Spencer places Dale Earnhardt, who died in a Daytona 500 crash in February, at the top of his list.
"I think that if Bill Elliott's car is pretty close to winning a race, I would say that Bill Elliott is the hardest guy to race for a win than anybody," Spencer said. "I think Darrell Waltrip was that way. I think the other drivers can make other guys do some different things.
"Dale Jarrett's very good at it. Bobby Labonte's good at it. They're very hard to beat."
He could go on, naming just about every veteran driver in the garage, but stops.
Sadler, who won his first career race in March at Bristol Motor Speedway, would now have to be considered part of that veteran group.
"If you've been racing long enough," he said, "you've probably seen every little subtle thing. It doesn't have to be much, just a little subtle thing here or there just to get that half-second advantage. That's hard to make up on the racetrack."
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday.
TV: Ch. 8. QUALIFYING: Noon today.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday.
WHERE: Daytona International Speedway (2.5 miles).
TV: Ch. 8.
2000 POLE WINNER: Dale Jarrett (187.547 mph).
2000 RACE WINNER: Jeff Burton
TICKETS: (904) 253-7223 or www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com.
9:45-11:45 a.m. -- NASCAR Goody's Dash practice.
Noon -- NASCAR Winston Cup qualifying (two laps, all positions).
3-4 p.m. -- NASCAR Goody's Dash final practice.
6:30 p.m. -- DAYTONAUSA.COM 150.
8-9:30 p.m. -- NASCAR Winston Cup final practice.
8 p.m. -- Pepsi 400 (160 laps, 400 miles).