DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Feb. 12, 2001 -- Bill Davis wanted to wear his poker face during Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway, but that's tough to do with a pair of aces up your sleeves and a trump card in the hole. Davis, a...
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Feb. 12, 2001 -- Bill Davis wanted to wear his poker face during Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway, but that's tough to do with a pair of aces up your sleeves and a trump card in the hole.
Davis, a 50-year-old Arkansas native, joined Dodge for the 2001 NASCAR Winston Cup campaign. Ward Burton will drive the No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid R/T, while Dave Blaney returns behind the wheel of the No. 93 Amoco Ultimate Dodge Intrepid R/T.
Burton qualified sixth fastest for the 43rd annual Daytona 500 on Feb. 18, while Blaney posted the 14th fastest speed. Burton and Blaney give Davis the makings of a winning hand, and engine builder Terry Elledge just might be the trump card needed to rake the pot.
"Terry Elledge has been our ace in the hole for a long time," Davis said. "He's a motor wizard, there's no question about that. He helped develop the (GM) SB2 engine when he was with Richard Childress, and his Dodge engines are awesome. They'll keep getting better and better as we go along."
Burton, who won a race and finished 10th in the 2000 standings, agrees with his car owner. The 39-year-old driver from South Boston, Va., puts a lot of confidence in Elledge's engines.
"In 1996 and '97 we were blowing six or seven motors a year," Burton said. "Bill Davis heard that Terry Elledge was available. It worked out that Bill got Terry, and it ended up our other engine man left. That left the door open for Terry to take charge, and he's done a great job. Those engine guys work day and night. They're a big part of whether we have success or not."
After a 15-year absence from NASCAR Winston Cup competition, 10 Dodge drivers and five Intrepid teams came to Daytona and made quite a splash in qualifying by capturing the front row and two other top seven spots. Dodge's one-team approach already has paid big dividends, just like Davis expected.
"Switching to Dodge gave us an opportunity to help our team grow," Davis said. "Hopefully we can take our team to the next level, run in the top five and eventually contend for the championship. What Dodge has done is actually pretty cool. In a little more than a year's time, they've developed a body and engine and are ready for the Daytona 500.
"I'm confident that we're ready. We've done everything we could. There might be a few hiccups, but we've logged a lot of miles with the motors. We haven't run at Pocono and Michigan and places like that yet, and that'll be the real acid test. We've thrown away all our old notes and made a lot of new ones."
Davis says everything is in place for a successful season. Although the grueling 36-race schedule will take a toll on man and machine, Davis says his outfit is up to the challenge.
Blaney ended his rookie season with two top-10 runs in the last three races last year, and Burton had a chance to win several times along the way.
"Our two drivers are ready," Davis said. "If Bill Davis had done a better job with Dave Blaney the first half of last year, he'd have been running like that all year long. We just didn't have everything in place.
"When we got everyone in place, Dave came to life and showed what he can do. I think he'll take up where he left off last year.
"Dave Blaney is fired up about it. He's been at the shop every day. He's wildly excited. He had a legitimate shot to finish second or third at Atlanta last year in the season finale, and he hasn't forgotten that. I think the 93 team will be solid from the beginning."
Blaney, a 36-year-old driver from Hartford, Ohio, will make his 40th career start in the Daytona 500, and he's hoping to improve on last year's 27th-place finish.
"I've known in my mind that we are going to be good," Blaney said. "We think we've got a real good piece of equipment to go racing. We're looking forward to Thursday's 125, and hopefully we can learn a few more things that will help us in the Daytona 500."
Davis is counting on Burton to step it up a notch or two this season after finishing ninth and 10th in the standings the past two years.
"Ward could have won a few more races last year," Davis said. "He could have won that last race in Atlanta, and he was running away from everybody in the Southern 500 at Darlington. Then it got crazy with the rain and stuff.
"Ward was second in the points last year after Dover (13th race of the season) and he was fourth after New Hampshire (18th race). We started beating ourselves after that. We made a lot of mistakes and didn't race smart. The team got down on itself a little bit, but we proved we could do it the first half of the season. We just need to do it the entire season this year."
Dodge hopes to provide all the tools necessary for Burton to do just that.
"We've already been to the wind tunnel more this year than we did all last year," Burton said. "Everyone at Dodge has worked very hard to give us what we need, and I think we're going to have a car that's capable of contending for wins everywhere we go."
It took a group effort among all the Dodge teams, but Davis said that was really the only way to accomplish the task at hand.
"The Dodge philosophy has worked great," Davis said. "With the time frame we had, there was really no other way to do it. It had to be a group effort.
"I'm excited about the Daytona 500. Being here with a new manufacturer is great. I know that we're better prepared and know more about our cars. I know we're going to be better, and it's real exciting.
"I think the Daytona 500 will be an exciting race. We saw last year at Talladega with the new rules that anybody can win from just about anywhere on the track with a few laps left. I think the Dodge teams are prepared, and I think a Dodge will be in contention to win. We intend to be right there."