Ward Burton does it again By Matthew Leach HOMESTEAD, Fla. (Nov. 12, 1999) Ward Burton is back to being the Bud Pole Qualifying machine that he was last season. "Top-20 Ward" doesn't quite have the same ring as "Front Row Joe," but that doesn't...
Ward Burton does it again By Matthew Leach
HOMESTEAD, Fla. (Nov. 12, 1999) Ward Burton is back to being the Bud Pole Qualifying machine that he was last season. "Top-20 Ward" doesn't quite have the same ring as "Front Row Joe," but that doesn't change the fact that few teams qualify better than the Bill Davis' No. 22 Caterpillar Pontiac operation.
Burton will start near the front once again in Sunday's inaugural Pennzoil 400 presented by Kmart at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He qualified fifth with a time of 34.878 seconds, at an average speed of 154.825 mph, around the flat 1.5-mile oval. He was all set for a second-row start until his teammate Dave Blaney -- who won't be a full-fledged rookie contender until next year -- knocked him down a spot.
It's Burton's eighth top-10 start of the season, and his fifth top-5 effort. Much of that success has come in the season's second half. Burton has qualified in the top-20 in 14 of the last 15 races. In that span, his average start is 11.9 -- a dramatic improvement from his 19.4 average start in the first 18 events. Burton's only Bud Pole, his only second-place start and all but one of his top-5 starts have come in the last 15 events.
Translated from numbers into words, the guy is fast on Friday. And, of course, "older but faster" than younger brother Jeff, whom he has now outqualified in 14 of the last 18 events.
Burton knew he had a good lap, maybe as good as he could have run. Dramatically changing track conditions kept him -- and probably everyone else in the 48-team field -- from getting the setup perfect. Heavy winds and warm tempearatures early in the afternoon gave way to calmer, cooler conditions by the time Burton ran his lap around 5 p.m. ET.
"Tommy (Baldwin, crew chief) said we were the fastest in one in two, equal down the backstretch and lost my time on the exit of four," Burton said.
"I just got a little tight. We could have fixed it with (an) air pressure adjustment, but the track is nothing like it was earlier. If the track would have still been real slick and all, there'd probably be different people up front and people that didn't run so well."
The downside of qualifying so well so frequently is that it's old hat to Burton and the rest of the Caterpillar crew. Anything short of a win is scant consolation to a man who has gone more than four years since his only trip to Victory Lane in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.
Not that he's complaining about one more great qualifying run.
"We'll take it. That's as fast as we've run since we've been here, and we did it when we needed to."