HIGH POINT, NC -- Dave Blaney's now-rising stock-car stock would be perceived much differently had fates been a little kinder to him at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the track to which he has adapted most quickly in his brief NASCAR experience after 15...
HIGH POINT, NC -- Dave Blaney's now-rising stock-car stock would be perceived much differently had fates been a little kinder to him at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the track to which he has adapted most quickly in his brief NASCAR experience after 15 years as a sprint-car fixture.
Potential victories -- both well within his literal sights -- in March 1999, and November 2000 might have offered those not watching his steady progress in his new discipline a more supportive view of his pending week-to-week presence at the front of NASCAR Winston Cup Series fields.
In only the 24th start of his NASCAR career, Blaney won the pole in track-record time for the Yellow Freight 300 Busch Series race at AMS on March 00, 1999, then ran at the front throughout the race with Winston Cup regulars Mark Martin and Mike Skinner, the latter winning his car sponsor's sponsored event despite a post-race inspection that found unapproved parts in the winning engine. The decision was reversed, making runner-up Blaney a first-time winner for 48 hours, then reversed upon review by a NASCAR panel.
In the season-finale of his rookie Winston Cup season at AMS, Blaney and Amoco Ultimate Team 93 put together a similarly-startling performance, running at the front throughout the rain-delayed Monday race. He loomed less than 50 feet (in fourth-place) from the front of a pack, including dominant Bill Davis Racing teammate Ward Burton for the race's final restart in the final 10 miles, a huge upset-victory in his sight.
As he would later surmise after neither of his cars went to Victory Lane, Car Owner Davis believed that -- although Burton had led more laps than his rookie teammate in only his 39th WC start -- Blaney's momentum and hunger at the dusk-point of the season may have made him the more likely potential winner among the BDR entries.
"I hated his day ended like it did in that last race at Atlanta because they had a real chance to win after a tough rookie season," said Davis, who had three top WC finishers in the race when 2001 Busch Series rookie-of-the-Year candidate Scott Wimmer turned an unexpected start into a 22nd-place finish.
After being tapped from behind in the restart jam-up, Blaney's #93 Amoco/Siemens entry scrubbed the wall under the flag stand and limped home 18th as fellow non-winner Jerry Nadeau snaked his way through the confusion for his first career NASCAR victory.
"We had two cars that were in contention for the win with 10 miles to go but the thing I liked the most was that Dave was on the gas, looking to win the race despite all the things that had happened to him in his rookie season. Another guy would have been happy to just ride right there, get his top-five and go home to build on it for next year.
"Not many people see it this way right now but we all believe here that Dave is ready to run up front every week and be in position to win a race before the year's out. If it happens, most all the 'experts' will call it a big upset but I won't. I think the Dodge will be really good at Atlanta and both our cars have a chance to win."
While his NASCAR performance chart has followed a predictably-erratic path for a driver with just over 100 stock-car starts on any level in his entire career, Blaney's excellence on Atlanta's torturous high-banks has been both constant and surprising, as have solid, but less-glossy results at similar layouts such as Charlotte, Texas and Michigan.
In five cumulative NASCAR Busch and Winston Cup Series starts at Atlanta, Blaney has never qualified out of the top-ten, including his record-breaking qualifying run in March, 1999 and three consecutive top-ten Winston Cup efforts, including fourth last fall. His race runs have also been memorable, including front-running performances in both his Busch Series starts (in 1998 & his win/non-win in 1999 and his eye-opening effort last November.
"Our efforts as a team at Las Vegas last weekend was disappointing (Blaney 26th, Burton 21st) because we felt we ready to run up front there with the new Dodges," said Davis. "But I believe both our drivers have a chance to run up front and contend for the win at Atlanta. It's the place I think Dave is the most ready to show how far he's come."
*****NOTE...Despite disappointing efforts by both Blaney and Burton at Las Vegas, the third member of the BDR team enjoyed yet another promising weekend as he continues to acclimate to NASCAR competition. Scott Wimmer, one of a deep field of candidates for 2001 Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year honors in the NASCAR Busch Series, qualified poorly (35th) but moved steadily to the front in the BGN race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, finishing 11th in only seventh-ever NASCAR start behind race-winner Todd Bodine.
Wimmer, who became only the second American Speed Association (ASA) rookie to win back-to-back races last spring, put together his third straight front-running effort, although his 16th-place standing in the NASCAR Busch Series points is not representative if Wimmer's brilliant start to the 2001 season.
In his first-ever superspeedway experience at Daytona last month, Wimmer finished 15th and led 24 laps in the 300-mile season-opener during SpeedWeeks 2001 and followed last week by running in the top-ten throughout the 200-mile race at North Carolina Speedway, falling to a 31st-place finish after cutting a tire in the final 10 miles of the race.
Wimmer trails tenth-place Chad Little in the BGN points by only 44 points but is the third-ranked rookie behind Greg Biffle (third) and Tim Sauter (11th).
"There's no question that Scott's has a huge future in NASCAR and is probably going to surprise some people this season with what he can do, despite his lack of experience in these style stock cars," said car owner Davis. " We're still looking for a full-time sponsorship program with a company interested in getting on board with one of NASCAR's best young prospects and growing with him into the Winston Cup Series."
Wimmer's return to Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend for the fourth Busch Series race of the 2001 season is much-anticipated after his unusual first experience at one of NASCAR's most difficult tracks.
Last November, Wimmer's scheduled appearance in the ARCA race prior to the Winston Cup season-finale at AMS was derailed due to rain, moving Car Owner Davis to enter the young Wisconsin native in the Winston Cup field as a late-entry. Wimmer posted a second-day qualifying speed equal to BDR teammate Burton's first-round time, started 31st and produced a memorable Winston Cup debut, finishing 22nd and leading nine laps in only his fourth-ever NASCAR start in any division.