Burton says blocking was main culprit in wrecks

Tuesday, February 19, 2002

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- One reason Ward Burton is the newest Daytona 500 winner is he chose to be patient and refused to play the blocking game now commonplace on Winston Cup racing's biggest tracks.

"You've got somebody coming up behind you 5 mph faster, you can't block them," Burton said Monday, a day after the biggest victory of his career. "It looked to me that every wreck that I was around or saw was about blocking."

Sunday's race was marred by two big wrecks -- one involving 18 cars and the other six -- as well as some blatant strategy by leaders snaking up and down the 2 1/2-mile, high-banked oval to discourage a challenge from behind.

The prerace focus was on NASCAR's latest aerodynamics rules and how they would affect the drivers.

Two years ago, with similar rules in place, NASCAR's biggest event was just plain boring, with almost no passing and only a handful of caution flags. A change last year made racing at Daytona and Talladega, NASCAR's longest and fastest ovals, more appealing to fans but had drivers complaining about dangerous racing.

The sanctioning organization reacted this winter by going back to rules almost like in 2000, though Dodge and Ford teams complained about a disadvantage until NASCAR gave them shorter rear spoilers in the days leading up to Sunday's race.

Issue concerns Helton

Mike Helton, president of NASCAR, said Monday he was mostly pleased with the way the rules worked in the season opener, but admitted there are concerns about the role blocking is starting to play in the sport's biggest events.

"The activity on the track, the accidents that were caused by things that drivers did, were unfortunate," Helton said. "That may be another aspect of superspeedway racing that we have to deal with."

He wouldn't get more specific about what NASCAR might do, but Helton did point out that the organization made a change to the rule barring drivers racing below the yellow line at the lower edge of the Daytona oval.

Since it was installed several years ago, drivers going below that line were penalized even if they had been forced there by another car. On Sunday, the drivers were told in a prerace meeting that anyone forcing them below the line would be hit with a penalty and that the driver pushed down the track would not be penalized if they did not improve their position. There were no yellow line penalties Sunday.

"We're pretty happy with the yellow line, so I don't think we'll change that," Helton said. "It appears we may have to address blocking all around the racetrack, not just below the yellow line.

"If it gets to the point where it's counterproductive to the racing or if its detrimental to the racing, then we'll have to react. But it's always been there. Blocking is as old as Daytona International Speedway. We'll have to talk about it and take a look."

Burton said something may need to be done by NASCAR, but the drivers could also do a better job of policing themselves.

Race gets record rating

The race drew its highest TV rating ever for start-to-finish coverage.

NBC's telecast, its first airing of the race under a six-year deal with NASCAR, drew a 10.9 rating Sunday, a jump of 9 percent from the 10.0 for last year's Daytona 500 broadcast on Fox.

The previous record for NASCAR's season-opening race was the 10.4 CBS received in 1979, the first time the Daytona 500 was shown live in its entirety on network television.

Each rating point represents about 1.05 million U.S. television households.

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