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A little help, please

Drivers can't do it by themselves out on the track

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Posted: Friday February 16, 2001 11:01 AM
Updated: Friday February 16, 2001 12:28 PM

  Dale Earnhardt Dale Earnhardt never found the help he was looking for in Thursday's race and finished in third place. AP

By John Donovan,

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Getting some help at Daytona International Speedway never has been more important. A driver who can't find a little assistance out on the track might as well just keep it in the garage.

That was clear Thursday when Dale Earnhardt found himself leading -- all alone -- going into the last lap of the first of two Gatorade 125s. Looking for some help, he found nothing. He finished third.

It was clear on Thursday, too, for many rookies, who traditionally have a hard time hooking up with anyone other than other rookies. Ask Andy Houston, who had a chance to win Thursday.

"I feel like I'm the most unpopular guy in Daytona Beach," Houston said after his run in the Gatorade 125s. "It seems like I would go one way and everybody else would go the other way."

With the new aerodynamic package that has bunched the cars in tight packs and made drafting an art again, friends are as valuable as a lug gun to a tire man.

Partners always have been important. Drivers who have the same car owner, who race for the same racing team, often help each other out. Rookies team together sometimes, or guys running cars from the same manufacturer.

But this important?

Earnhardt had hoped Jeff Gordon would help him out Thursday, especially on the last lap, but Gordon was too busy worrying about himself. Gordon ended up in sixth. Houston was looking for anyone. He finished fourth in the first race.

In Sunday's Daytona 500, with 200 laps of jockeying going on, it will be even more critical for a driver to know who his friends are. If he has any.

"I learned not to trust anybody," Houston said, when asked the lessons he learned in his 125-mile qualifier. "They will hang you out in a minute."

The 125s
Oh, yeah, folks are still buzzing about the 125s on Thursday. And why not? They provided some of the wildest, scariest, best racing seen in these parts in years. Can you imagine how it will be when almost twice as many cars are on the track? That's why folks still are buzzing.

Trucks and IROC
Saturday is reserved for the Busch Series, Sunday for the Super Bowl of stock car racing. But today is the chance for the Craftsman Truck Series to shine -- hey, those guys have been booking around the track this week -- and for the International Race of Champions, that novelty race where representatives of all sorts of racing circuits compete in identically prepared cars.

NASCAR officials slowed the trucks down, adding an extra inch to their rear spoilers. But don't expect changes to the Winston Cup cars, regardless of the Ford's cries of foul. With the competitiveness of Thursday's racing, there's a definite wait-and-see stance being taken.

Kurt Busch
C'mon, now. He's a rookie. He needs a little lovin'. The poor guy has no sponsor, no help on the track and he's neck-deep in one of the most competitive racing situations ever to hit Daytona. At least he's in the Daytona 500 after his 12th place finish in the second 125.

Fender rubbin' Hey, isn't that what we're all looking for?
Earnhardt He's always right there, isn't he?
Plate racing Racing's not always who goes the fastest
TV sounds Sounds are good. Graphic is weak, though
Darrell Waltrip Analyst offers good down-home explanations

Two hundred laps makes for a lot of drafting, a lot of pushing and a lot of lead changes, given the new aerodynamic packages on these Winston Cup cars. At some point, everybody's going to need a helping hand. But that last lap Sunday? Forget about it.

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