HIGH POINT, N.C.-- After watching Dave Blaney break out of a month-long slump in spectacular fashion last weekend at Michigan, the strange philosophy of long-time friend Dwayne Krieger concerning motorsports biorhythms gained even more ...
HIGH POINT, N.C.-- After watching Dave Blaney break out of a month-long slump in spectacular fashion last weekend at Michigan, the strange philosophy of long-time friend Dwayne Krieger concerning motorsports biorhythms gained even more momentum.
For his fourth career NASCAR Winston Cup Series start at the two-mile track, Blaney tied his career-best fourth-place qualifying effort, then followed Crew Chief Doug Randolph's carefully-orchestrated race-plan for the #93 Amoco/Siemens Dodge to an eighth-place finish that could have been even better.
Blaney, who moved into second place behind then-leader Sterling Marlin with 17 laps remaining, was shuffled back four places after the race's final restart on Lap 196 but still posted his third top-ten finish of the season, second only to Marlin among the 10 teams participating in Dodge's historic return to NASCAR in 2001.
The Michigan performance by Blaney was no surprise to Krieger, now Car Chief on the #23 Jani-King/Bill Davis Racing for rookie Scott Wimmer in the NASCAR Busch Series. Despite a dismal four-race stretch in May for the #93 Amoco team, Krieger said the timing of Blaney's Michigan results is precendented and predictable.
"When we raced in the World of Outlaws, Dave always seemed to hit a stretch in May where he would struggle on the track, regardless of how we'd been running prior to that," said Krieger, who joined storied Crew Chief Kenny Woodruff on Blaney's 1996 WoO championship effort before making the switch with him to NASCAR and the BDR team prior to the 1998 season. "It was as predictable as the sun coming up, and we never could figure a cause-and-effect on it.
"It wasn't anything we changed to the cars. It wasn't the tracks, places like Greenwood, Neb., Terre Haute, IN. and Williams Grove, PA, where we'd go at other times in the year and run right up front. We could be on a two-week winning streak and get to the first week of May and struggle to make the shows.
"Now I'm not saying it's anything cosmic or that some of the weird things that happened to the #93 team during May don't happen a lot in racing. Every young team goes through stretches like Dave went through last month. It's just that I wasn't surprised that HIS tough month came in May. I've seen this 'movie' before."
If not for a slight hesitation in Turns 3-4 on his qualifying lap at Michigan, Blaney might have begun his weekend-long "recovery" in more spectacular fashion, slipping past eventual race-winner Jeff Gordon, race runner-up Ricky Rudd and Mike Skinner to win his first career WC pole position.
His time of 38.365 secs., including the fastest Turn 1-2 time of any of the 48 entries, placed Blaney only .12-secs. behind Gordon and equaled his best career WC start (fourth) from Miami (1999), Daytona (7/00) and Atlanta (11/00). Also not unprecedented, Blaney won one of his six NASCAR Busch Series pole positions in his only visit to MIS in 1999, setting a then-track qualifying record before finishing third behind Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. the following afternoon.
In the 200-lap race at Michigan, Blaney ran up front early, then pitted out-of-sequence to make substantial changes on the #93 Amoco/Siemens Dodge and ran in the mid-teens for much of the race's middle segment. With Crew Chief Randolph following a precise gas-mileage strategy, Blaney moved into the top-ten on Lap 163 and remained on the track while other lead cars pitted early for tire and gas.
When a caution-flag came out 10 laps later after Earnhardt's engine expired, Blaney pitted in sixth, came out in fourth behind BDR teammate Ward Burton and was positioned to challenge for his first career victory for the third time during the 2001 season. But on the race's final restart with four laps remaining, Blaney was shuffled back by a pair of Penske Motorsports entries (Jeremy Mayfield, Ryan Newman), then bumped to the bottom on the final turn by Jeff Burton and Hut Stricklin to fall to eighth.
"The car really was pretty good all day but the engine-gear combination was just a little off and it hurt us at the end," said Blaney. "It seemed like the whole field got by me at the end but we were probably a top-five car. I thought coming in we could be as good here as we were at Atlanta earlier this year. It was just a matter of getting our car handling where it stayed good on the long runs.
"The sun went in and out all day but (Crew Chief) Doug (Randolph) did a great job of adapting as the race unfolded and had me where we could be in position to contend at the end. That was my fourth Winston Cup race at Michigan but I've run a Busch race and two ARCA races here as well. I live about four hours from here (in Hartford, OH.) so I guess it's my 'home' track. It's great to run as well as we did here but I'm not satisfied with eighth. We could see the lead with 10 miles to go and didn't get it done."
Despite the fact that four Dodges -- Marlin, Burton, Blaney and Bill Elliott -- ranked in the top-five with less than 50 miles remaining, Gordon and Rudd raced back to the front through lapped traffic to stage a dramatic finish, denying Dodge its much-anticipated first victory of the season. Burton fell from contention on Lap 184 when a hole in his radiator caused engine failure for the #22 Caterpillar Dodge. He finished 38th.
"We all thought we could get a top-five out of it today but I don't think we had a low enough gear in there, especially for the sprint at the end," said Randolph. "It made us a one-dimensional car. We could pass on the high side, but any time Dave went low to pass, he'd bog down and lose momentum. In those last two restarts at the end, it really hurt him.
"Without those last two cautions, I think Dave would have easily finished third or fourth. That's the nature of the business. We need that top-five finish to get over the hump and it's coming. I thought we were going to get it today, but we made a big jump in the points and we need to build on that. We've got a good car for Pocono and we'll try to keep moving forward in the points. That's our goal right now."
The top-ten finish for the #93 Amoco/Siemens Dodge propelled Blaney up five positions (to 26th) in both the WC driver and team point standings entering this weekend's race at Pocono Raceway. Blaney now trails Kurt Busch in 25h by only 56 points and BDR teammate Burton (in 19th) by 164 points. Burton and Blaney remain the third- and fourth-ranked teams among the 'Dodge 10', behind only Marlin (3rd) and Elliott (16th).
Qualifying at Pocono is scheduled for Friday, June 15 at 3 p.m. EDT with the 200-lap, 500-mile race scheduled for Sunday, June 17 at 1 p.m. EDT. The events from Pocono will be televised by the FOX Networks (FOX, FX, Fox Sports Net) and broadcast on radio by Motor Racing Network (MRN). NASCAR Busch teams -- including BDR rookie Scott Wimmer -- return to action this weekend in the inaugural series event at the new 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway on Saturday night, June 16.
***NOTES....With the BDR finishes at Michigan, car owners Bill and Gail Davis surpassed the $16 million mark in overall NASCAR earnings for their Busch and Winston Cup efforts, dating back to their first start in the Busch race at Daytona with fellow Arkansas native Mark Martin in 1988. The pair ranks 13th overall among all NASCAR owners in total earnings during their 14 seasons in the sport.
***TOM HUBERT -- himself an accomplished Winston Cup and Busch Series driver -- took over duties as interim Car Chief for the #93 Amoco/Siemens team at Michigan last weekend, working closely with Crew Chief Doug Randolph during Blaney's great overall weekend performance. Hubert, a full-time BDR employee who has served in a race-day-only capacity as rear-tire changer for the #93 team since last fall, drove the #20 BDR Busch Series entry last summer before Scott Wimmer joined the team in September in preparation for his rookie season in 2001 in the #23 Jani-King Pontiac.