Blaney's Brilliant Darlington Drive Ends Up Two Miles Short; BDR Teammate Burton Wins First Southern 500 DARLINGTON, S.C. -- In a day he will always remember for exhilarating highs and extreme frustration, Dave Blaney overcame two flat tires ...
Blaney's Brilliant Darlington Drive Ends Up Two Miles Short; BDR Teammate Burton Wins First Southern 500
DARLINGTON, S.C. -- In a day he will always remember for exhilarating highs and extreme frustration, Dave Blaney overcame two flat tires and came from the back of the field three times on the treacherous old Darlington Raceway layout before having his first career NASCAR Winston Cup career top-five finish slide away within two miles of the finish.
For the fifth time this season, Blaney passed 50-plus cars (57) on a track many label as NASCAR's most difficult and rallied from serious situations three separate times to placed himself fifth with two laps remaining in the Southern 500, the most venerable Winston Cup event on the circuit.
But as he attempted to complete a pass of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. through a cloud of stay-dry dust in Turn 1, Blaney's car slid up the track and into the #8 Budweiser Chevrolet, collecting several cars racing behind the pair and allowing Bill Davis Racing teammate Ward Burton to streak away at the front of the field for his third career victory, his second at Darlington. Blaney eventually finished as the final car on the lead-lap (19th) in the #93 Amoco/Siemens Dodge—two positions behind Earnhardt, Jr. who jokingly told Blaney "nice try" and laughed about the incident following the race.
It was another bittersweet afternoon for the BDR pair, who appeared in position to give car owners Bill and Gail Davis their first-ever top-five finishes for both cars in the less-than-two seasons since Blaney moved to the Winston Cup level in 2000 after only 59 Busch Series races during the 1998-99 seasons.
"I'm almost as proud of Dave and the #93 team as I am of Ward because they never gave up all day long after getting two flat tires AND a black-flag (speeding exiting pit road) from NASCAR," said Bill Davis following his third career NASCAR Winston Cup Series victory as an owner. "Dave drove the wheels off the car and passed everybody on the track—except maybe the top 3-4 cars—about twice to get back in position to win. You don't do that at this race-track without knowing what you're doing and he came back to the front and was there when it counted.
"Even when he was two laps down for that segment of the race, Dave was running top-five times and he deserved to get that first top-five finish. You can't fault him for going for it and Dale, Jr. didn't either. We don't need another guy just out here riding around. He's hungry and he's ready to run up there with guys in the front every week. They're going to do good things down the stretch."
After starting 14th, Blaney passed seven cars in the first 16 laps and remained a solid seventh until suffering a flat tire on Lap 53, the first of two in the race's first 200 miles. He limped in again with a right-front tire flat on Lap 137, again after picking up slivers of debris in the high-line on the track's abrasive, worn-out surface.
Then, after climbing back into contention twice during the race's middle stages, Blaney pitted under caution on Lap 310 while running 12th, but had to return to pit-road after it was determined that he exceeded pit-road speed while exiting. The penalty dropped to the back of the field again (21st in the running order) and—although doing all that was required—NASCAR posted his car number on the board (to return to the pits again) after the race returned to green-flag conditions and kept it there erroneously for three laps, further slowing Blaney's progress until the oversight was resolved in race control.
Nevertheless, Blaney drove back up to the leaders again over the final 50 laps, setting up his charge into the top-five in the closing seconds of the race. After an accident involving Jimmy Spencer and Ron Hornaday oiled the track and forced safety officials to put the sandy stay-dry dust on the track, the decrepit old racing surface was even slicker for the final four-lap shootout to the finish.
"They all got bottled up in Turn 4 and I had a good run going," said Blaney.
" I just went into Turn 1 too hot and slid up into Dale Jr. What are you going to do? Lift? We had better tires than they did and were just trying to take advantage of it and just slid into him.
"We had two flat right fronts today and got back on the lead-lap both times. We had a fast car, but it was a tough day. That was awesome for Ward. I was glad to see him win it. They've run well enough to win several races this year and had something bite them each time.
"We wanted to be the first team to win for Dodge this season with one of our BDR cars but for them to win here is pretty special. Maybe our time is coming soon with the #93. We had a fast car all day long. I had a stop-and-go penalty for speeding. Tough day. I got into Dale Jr. and I apologized to him. He knows what the deal is. I'm not going to back off when the lead is in sight that late in a race." After crashing in qualifying and being forced to take the first provisional starting position (37th), Burton methodically chased down day-long leaders Jeff Gordon, Jeremy Mayfield and Bobby Labonte, passing the latter midway through the caution-filled final 20 laps to secure the second win in three weeks for the Dodge brand in their first season back with NASCAR after more than two decades away from stock-car racing.
In the 52-year history of NASCAR's oldest race, only defending champion Labonte (37th) and Johnny Mantz (43rd in the first Southern 500 in 1950) had won a race at Darlington after starting further back in the field than did Burton.
With the win, Burton moved up to 17th in the overall WC standings, 186 points behind 15th-place Matt Kenseth. With the late-race drop in positions at Darlington, Blaney dropped one spot in the WC standings (24th), two points behind two-time WC champion Terry Labonte and 177 points behind 20th-place Bobby Hamilton entering this weekend's race at Richmond.
BDR teammate Scott Wimmer also returns to action at Richmond in the #23 BDR Busch Series entry after his spectacular afternoon at Darlington, where he charged from a 32nd place starting position to third in the final laps, only to be bounced into the Turn 2 wall twice and finish 12th. With the finish, Wimmer ranks 11th in the Busch Series standings, 169 points behind 10th-place Kenny Wallace.
NOTE: After damaging the specially-designed MAC TOOLS/Amoco/Siemens car in a practice accident at Bristol, the #93 Bill Davis Racing team opted for a traditionally-painted back-up car for the Sharpie 500 and delayed the debut of the special #93 MAC TOOLS Dodge (see attached photo) until this weekend's race at Richmond. The design is a one-race-only project for the #93 BDR team, which is currently involved in the process to replace BP-Amoco as the primary sponsor on the car for the 2002 season and beyond.
ALSO, Dave Blaney and Tony Stewart will face off in Round Three of their summer-long series in DIRT Modifieds on Sunday in New York (Lebanon Valley) following the night race at Richmond on Saturday night. Blaney will then join his #93 BDR teammates on Monday and Tuesday in Kansas City for testing on the new 1.5-mile oval where the NASCAR Winston Cup and Busch Series drivers will debut during the last weekend of September.