MARTINSVILLE, Va. (Oct. 21, 2007) --Dave Blaney and the Caterpillar Racing team, along with the other 42 competitors in the field, hoped for little more than to survive the day at the half-mile oval in Martinsville and bring their cars home in one...
MARTINSVILLE, Va. (Oct. 21, 2007) --Dave Blaney and the Caterpillar Racing team, along with the other 42 competitors in the field, hoped for little more than to survive the day at the half-mile oval in Martinsville and bring their cars home in one piece. Despite the momentum of two consecutive top-10 finishes and a 17th-place starting spot, Blaney battled handling issues for much of the afternoon before a broken rear end gear forced the Cat Toyota to the garage for mid-race repairs.
Rain delayed, then shortened the only practice session Friday. Qualifying began later than scheduled, and Blaney was the 29th of 48 drivers to make his two-lap run around the .526-mile paperclip-shaped oval. His speed of 94.115 mph was quick enough to earn the Caterpillar Racing team the 17th spot on the starting grid for Sunday's event.
The green flag waved for the start of the event and the 43-car pack made it all the way to lap 44 before the first caution flag of the afternoon waved. Caterpillar Racing crew chief Tommy Baldwin called Blaney into the pits for a two tire and fuel stop before sending him on his way for the lap 50 restart. Blaney communicated to his crew that the handling of his Toyota Camry was too tight in the center of the corners and too loose off, so Baldwin changed all four tires and made a track bar adjustment during the next stop, which occurred under caution on lap 71 of the scheduled 500 laps.
There were a record 20 cautions during Sunday's event, which gave Baldwin the opportunity not only to make plenty of adjustments to the car, but also the chance to gain track position by leaving the No. 22 machine out on the track when some of the leaders made pit stops. Baldwin utilized this strategy during a caution period just before the 100 lap mark, and on the restart, Blaney found himself running within the top 20. The veteran driver continued to communicate to his crew that the car wasn't handling to his liking and fell to 25th before a yellow flag waved on lap 114. This time, Blaney drove the Cat Camry down pit road to the attention of his crew.
Blaney was running 31st with leader Jeff Burton closing in from behind when another yellow flag flew. Since none of the previously-made adjustments had enough of an effect on the car's handling, Baldwin called for serious changes during the caution period that began on lap 168. Track bar, wedge and spring rubber adjustments were on tap during the ensuing stop, and Blaney lined up for the lap 173 restart in 32nd place.
Knowing there was still a long way to go in the race, the team continued to make changes, and Blaney remained patient throughout the first half of the event. Things took a turn for the worst when Blaney reported that something was making the car vibrate quite violently. The team prepared to assess the problem during the next pit stop, but its plans were accelerated when, during a lap 301 restart, Blaney was unable to get the car up to speed. He drove the car directly into the garage area, and the crew went to work to diagnose and repair the problem.
After spending 67 laps in the garage area while the crew changed the rear end gear and transmission, Blaney returned to the track to eek out as many positions and subsequently, championship points, as possible. When the checkered finally waved, Blaney held the 36th position.
Though not the finish for which the team was hoping, its competitors in the top 35 fight did not fare all that well either. Blaney fell one spot in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series owners' point standings to 35th, but he stands only six points behind Kyle Petty (34th).