Blaney has fast car, frustrating day at Darlington while Newman's runner-up effort leads Penske-Jasper engine trio in Southern 500. Dave Blaney's streak of bad summer luck stretched into September when tire problems in two different...
Blaney has fast car, frustrating day at Darlington while Newman's runner-up effort leads Penske-Jasper engine trio in Southern 500.
Dave Blaney's streak of bad summer luck stretched into September when tire problems in two different race-segments doomed his day and relegated him to a 29th-place finish in the Mountain Dew Southern 500 at rain-soaked Darlington (SC) Raceway, despite never losing a lap on the track to eventual race-winner Jeff Gordon or the other lead-lap cars.
After waiting out the weekend-long rains that extended into mid-afternoon on Sunday, Blaney and the #77 Jasper Engines & Transmissions Ford team started 21st on NASCAR Winston Cup owner points after qualifying for the season's 25th race was rained out on Friday. He maintained his position in the field after a 19-lap green/yellow start to the race under caution and was 22nd as he pitted under green-flag conditions for his first gas-tires stop on Lap 71.
Less than a half-lap after returning to the track, Blaney experienced a violent vibration and returned to his pit two laps later, changing tires again and losing two laps to the leaders while green-flag racing continued. Crew Chief Ryan Pemberton and the #77 Jasper crew discovered a punctured right-rear tire that was likely cut exiting pit-road.
Blaney spent the remainder of the afternoon trying to regain one or both of his laps from the lead-pack cars, running top-ten speeds while mired in the 30's at the back of the field. Then, just before his final scheduled green-flag stop on Lap 294, Blaney again felt an irregular condition with his tires at-speed, pitted 15 laps earlier than expected, and discovered that a right-front tire had equalized, dropping him four laps down to the leaders until their full cycle of green-flag stops was completed.
One of only two cars (with Ricky Rudd) two laps down, Blaney finished the race without incident, but wondered what might have been had he not had to again wade through what has seemed like an unending string of unpredictable problems that have plagued the #77 Jasper Engines & Transmissions Ford throughout the summer months.
"We started out pretty balanced in our first run, and it looked like we were going to be pretty good on longer runs, like you want as the tires burn away at Darlington," said Blaney. "We'll never know what might have been, because the only time we got a chance to race them was after we sorted out the lead-lap cars from the cars laps-down.
"To have two tire problems in one day--even at Darlington where the tire-wear is so severe--is unbelievable, except when you're causing your own problem with too much camber or some chassis-related problem. That wasn't the case with us, and there were segments during the middle of the race when we were as good as all but the top 5-6 cars. Seems like we've had a lot of those kinds of days this summer. It's pretty frustrating, but Ryan and our guys had great pit-stops all day and did all they could to figure a way to get us back in the hunt with the leaders."
In winning a record-tying fifth Southern 500, Gordon registered his second straight victory and his 60th in 318 career NASCAR Winston Cup starts (18.9%) despite an almost season-long non-winning streak dating back which ended last weekend at Bristol.
Ryan Newman chased Gordon at the end, but finished second ahead of Bill Elliott, current WC points leader Sterling Marlin, Dale Jarrett and two-time Darlington winner Ward Burton, the defending race champion. Rounding out the top-ten were Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Burton, while Rusty Wallace, the other PJE entry, ran in the top-ten through most of the race before fading to 22nd, far behind his Penske South teammate Newman.
"I guess it was just kind of a textbook Darlington race, but for us to finish second in our first Southern 500 is pretty huge," said Newman. "The guys that stayed out front and kept it off the wall today were the guys that got to stay there through the end of the race. We had a couple problems there in the pits with Jeff Burton and Jimmie Johnson, just not having enough room to get stopped in there right so we could get out right and that cost us track position a couple of times, but the guys did an awesome job in the pits, and that helped us stay out front.
"This was probably the first time all year we've had the same track conditions at the start of the race as we had in practice. It just kept on raining and the track was just getting dry and the temperature conditions were about the same. It was overcast, and that's pretty odd for us. Usually, we practice until noon on Saturday and race Sunday afternoon, so that was one thing that was different. The good thing was everything was pretty much the same for all of us.
"Not to be smart about it, but I guess some people are wrong about Darlington. You don't necessarily have to have years and years of experience to run at the front here, but you do have to know how to drive the race track, whether you watch it on TV or talk to teammates and other people like that. You can learn certain things and that may enable you to keep it off the wall for 500 miles and that's what's important. Like I've said before all season, I'm a rookie race car driver but I've been driving cars for 20 years."
With his 29th-place finish, Blaney dropped to 22nd in the NASCAR Winston Cup driver's standings, 24 points behind Kevin Harvick in 21st, 26 points behind Robby Gordon in 20th-place, 64 points behind Terry Labonte in 19th-place and 103 points behind Jeff Green in 18th-place. The #77 Jasper Ford fell to 23rd in the WC owner's standings entering next weekend's race at Richmond.
Newman moved up one spot (to 11th) with his outstanding finish in his first Southern 500, only 23 points behind Matt Kenseth in 10th, while Wallace remained sixth, but fell 230 points behind WC points leader Marlin.