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Lackluster racing dampens expectations for Daytona 500

February 15, 2019
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Alex Bowman (88) leads Chase Elliott (9), Joey Logano (22) and the rest of the field to start the second of two qualifying auto races for the NASCAR Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The Daytona 500 is shaping up to be a snoozer of a showcase.

Three exhibition races produced lackluster racing and little excitement beyond a pair of crashes Jimmie Johnson triggered. Now expectations are sinking in anticipation of Sunday’s season-opening race and NASCAR has no plans to tweak the rules package, either.

Richard Petty, winner of a record seven Daytona 500s, was blunt Friday when asked if he thought Speedweeks had produced good racing.

“No, I don’t,” said The King.

The first race of the year was a 20-car, all-star event that ran single file until Johnson made an aggressive move for the win. His pass of Paul Menard for the lead collected 16 other cars in the lone highlight of the race.

Johnson erred again in a Thursday qualifying race when he made contact with Kyle Busch to cause Busch to spin. That was the extent of the action all the way through the second 150-mile race, another single-file parade until the last lap when Joey Logano pulled out of line from fourth place to drive to the win.

Denny Hamlin said his peers raced conservatively in the exhibitions.

“Guys just don’t want to race until the end,” Hamlin said. “There’s just nothing rewarding until the end. Short of giving us points every 10 laps, this is going to be a lot of what you see on superspeedway races simply because guys just want to get to the end. Knowing it’s 500 miles, there is no reward for running the first 150 miles aggressively.”

NASCAR could have made adjustments to the rules package designed to tighten the racing for the 500, but any changes likely would have been needed prior to a pair of Friday practice sessions. Jay Fabian, the new director of the Cup Series, said NASCAR has had “zero discussions” about changing any rules.

Car owner Richard Childress was hopeful the action will be improved with the full, 40-car field Sunday. Team owner Rick Hendrick dismissed the complacency so far, saying drivers are merely protecting their Daytona 500 cars.

Roger Penske held out hope the Daytona 500 will be a better show.

“The racing will be certainly better on race day,” said Penske, who has two of the favorites to win the Daytona 500 in Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano.

Tony Stewart, co-owner of four strong Ford entries, didn’t want to link the early Speedweeks racing to the Daytona 500.

“The goal at the end of the day is to win the Daytona 500,” Stewart said. “I don’t think we put a lot of emphasis on winning the qualifying races. If you can win it, great. In no way do you want to jeopardize your primary car to do so.”

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