DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Richard Petty won seven times in the Daytona 500 but doesn’t entirely approve of the way the race is contested in modern times.
NASCAR added a restrictor plate to the engines to slow down speeds in 1988 and the result has largely produced multicar packs where drafting is the key to winning. Petty’s last Daytona 500 victory came in 1981 and was won on a fuel mileage gamble. Petty says the current product has taken that element out of the event and it’s not for the better.
Petty described the Battle at the Beach short track event as a throwback to what racing used to be. While he doesn’t applaud drivers wrecking each other on the last lap to win, he did see that as closer to what NASCAR used to be back in his day.
Petty fondly remembers battles with David Pearson, Earnhardt and Waltrip, adding that what he tried to do was ‘knock them out of the way, but not out of the race.’
“I look at that as racing and now they just run,” Petty said of the racing at Daytona this week. “Now I see it more as a plain old gamble if you're in the right place at the right time, you win a race. Big deal is that you have to be up there. But you take pot luck and each of the last three laps is a different crowd and wherever they stop the race is who wins it."
Petty also has strong opinions on NASCAR possibly retiring numbers like his own iconic no. 43 or Dale Earnhardt’s no. 3 – he’s not in favor. Richard would rather see his no. 43, currently driven by Aric Almirola in the Sprint Cup Series rather than having it tucked away, plastered on a wall in the Hall of Fame.
"To see the 43 out there today is part of history,” Petty said. “It's a part of me. If you put it on a wall, nobody is going to see it."