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Duets sound sour to Junior

DAYTONA BEACH — Dale Earnhardt Jr. made it clear he's no fan of the current style of restrictor-plate racing before he even arrived at Daytona International Speedway.

"I'm not looking forward to going to Daytona, not with the way the drafting is there," he said a week before Saturday night's Coke Zero 400.

But if there was any doubt, he ended it after a 19th-place finish that had his passionate army of fans accusing Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson of sabotaging Earnhardt's chance to win.

"I am really ticked off. It was a foolish … race. I don't know what to tell you," he fumed. "I don't like this kind of racing, and you know it."

Earnhardt didn't appear to be "ticked off" at Johnson, the teammate he partnered with for the second consecutive plate race. He pushed Johnson to the win at Talladega in April, and Johnson said all week he was willing to return the favor.

There once was a time when Earnhardt didn't need help to win at Daytona. In 2001, he won the July race in his first visit after his father's fatal accident in the Daytona 500. And 17 months ago, he charged from 10th to second in the breathtaking final two laps of the season opener.

But plate racing has changed dramatically since then, as 20-car or 30-car packs have given way to two-car tandems with the rear car pushing almost continuously. Now drivers pick a partner and devise a strategy even before they get to Daytona.

"I'd rather have control of my own destiny and be able to go out there and race and just do my own work and worry about my own self," Earnhardt said Thursday.

Saturday, the Earnhardt-Johnson duo was mired in traffic, then the cars were separated when Johnson ducked onto pit road as Earnhardt stayed on the track.

It was botched communication, made worse when a last-lap wreck damaged both cars among several others. Johnson finished 20th.

"I'm driving my car, do what I'm told," Earnhardt said. "They decided to do something different. … I don't know how that affected us, if it did at all. It probably didn't."

Duets sound sour to Junior 07/03/11 [Last modified: Sunday, July 3, 2011 8:50pm]
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