Drivers fretting over new rules at Talladega

Friday, April 20th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) _ Jimmy Spencer actually likes the restrictor plate racing at Talladega Superspeedway. No kidding.

``I like restrictor plates, but I don't like the rules package we're under now,'' Spencer said. ``It's a different animal than it was four or five years ago.''

NASCAR ordered aerodynamic changes for the tracks at Daytona and Talladega last fall, making it nearly impossible to break away from a pack.

At the only restrictor plate race this year, February's Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt, one of the most adept drivers in such racing, was killed in a crash on the final lap.

Earnhardt's death also raised apprehensions among drivers and fans entering Sunday's Talladega 500 at the high-banked, 2.66-mile oval.

``Since we lost Dale Earnhardt, everybody's so worried about the rules,'' said Spencer, who has finished in the top 10 in half of his 22 Talladega Winston Cup races. ``I understand we're going to see great racing on Sunday.''

He also said the only time he heard rumblings about a possible driver boycott of this race was from the media.

``I don't think anybody has a solution right now,'' Spencer said.

Bill Elliott has competed in 46 races at Talladega, getting two wins and a record eight poles. His strategy?

``You've just got to wait for the big wreck and hope you aren't in it,'' Elliott said. ``There's nothing you can do to compensate.''

Earnhardt took full advantage of the bunched-up driving last fall, surging from 18th to first in the final five laps of the Winston 500.

``Some drivers are better at it than others, but I've never seen anyone better at it than Dale Earnhardt was,'' said Tony Glover, crew chief for Sterling Marlin and four Talladega race winners. ``What he did to win that race last October at Talladega was truly amazing.''

Jeff Gordon said he learned plenty about restrictor plate racing from Earnhardt. Last year's finish reinforced the anything is possible at a Superspeedway mentality.

``It used to be that if you're leading on the last lap, you're probably going to win,'' said Gordon, who won the Talladega 500 last year. ``What it takes now is first, to be there at the finish and, second, luck.

``When it's four-deep, 10 rows back, it's pretty hard to have any kind of strategy.''

Defending Winston Cup champion Bobby Labonte has been caught up in other drivers' accidents in two of his last three restrictor plate races, including this season's Daytona 500.

``In all three of those races, we purposely ran near the back since we knew we were able to pull up on the rest of the pack in a lap or so,'' Labonte said. ``Unfortunately, in two of those events, we got caught up in someone else's mistakes. That's just part of racing, I guess.''

Robert Yates, owner of the cars driven by Ricky Rudd and series leader Dale Jarrett, said the track doesn't have to be so hazardous for drivers.

``They need to have a little bit more respect for banging into each other,'' Yates said. ``Let's see the best driver and best car win, instead of who can scare the other guy out of the way.''