NASCAR

Restrictor-plate pressure wears on older drivers

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Darrell Waltrip

Darrell Waltrip — winner of 84 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races and a three-time champion — serves as lead analyst for NASCAR on FOX. He was selected for induction into the prestigious NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2012. Want more from DW? Become a fan on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

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Cal from Florida: You wrote: "You either love or hate restrictor plate racing. And the older I got, the more I hated it." Can you be more specific about what you hated and why?
Feb. 20, LIVE from Daytona


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  • Darrell Waltrip: A driver likes to feel like he's in control of his own destiny and has room to maneuver. He want to be able to choose where he can run. On most race tracks, that's the case. But when you race at Daytona and Talladega, you run around in a wad of 43 cars, just like a herd or a pack. You're never comfortable, and in the latter stages of my career, I had to be comfortable in the car and with the people I was racing. I was not happy if I found myself in a situation that I couldn't get out of. When you're driving in a pack of cars at Daytona and Talladega, you are literally being sucked along. The cars bounce and jump around. You're sitting on pins and needles knowing that one mistake by anybody around you is probably going to wreck you and whole lot of other people as well. We've just seen it time and time again. People get tired of hearing us talk about the Big One, but when a driver starts a race at those two tracks, it's on his mind. Am I going to be in it, or am I actually going to be the one that causes it? Everywhere else, you feel like you've got some control. You've got horsepower to work with. You can run different grooves. You can choose who you want to race with in most cases, and you just feel like you are in control instead of being pushed and pulled in places that you don't really want to go. At restrictor-plate tracks, the cars have no acceleration so a driver knows he can never lift off of the accelerator. You do all kinds of things to keep from having to lift. You'll ride the brakes. You'll actually bump or bump-draft the guy in front of you, and it makes you do things that you wouldn't normally do.
    Ask DW
    Daytona and Talladega are the most mentally-demanding races for drivers. They're harder than running at any race track we go to because it takes so much concentration, and you're so tense that you don't wear out from mental exertion. When the race is over, you can hardly walk or move your arms and not necessarily because you've been fighting with the car. And the older you get, the harder it is to deal with pressure and tension. There are two ways to go at Daytona and Talladega. Some guys race with reckless abandon. Or you can do what I've done and Bill Elliott, Dale Jarrett, Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart do now. I've seen them drop to the back and just kind of ride along until they feel they've got to go late in the race. It's a tough way to race, and it's four races a year that you wish you didn't have to run. A good day at Daytona and Talladega is when you can drive the car into the trailer.

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