Blaney's first career Winston Cup pole position a direct dividend of addition of new Crew Chief Barker to ...
Blaney's first career Winston Cup pole position a direct dividend of addition of new Crew Chief Barker to #77 Jasper Motorsports team.
ROCKINGHAM, N.C. -- Few NASCAR observers remember the spectacular beginning and unfulfilled potential generated from first NASCAR Winston Cup Series collaboration between Dave Blaney and crew chief "Bootie" Barker, which occurred 15 months before their debut in Daytona last weekend as a permanent pairing with the #77 Jasper Engines & Transmissions Ford team.
In his last full weekend (November 16-18, 2001) with Bill Davis Racing, Blaney went to Atlanta Motor Speedway to finish a four-year relationship with BDR and departing sponsor BP-Amoco. He was joined for the final BDR race by Barker, who had made his WC debut as crew chief one year earlier when future Busch Series driver Scott Wimmer has made a surprise start in the 2000 season-final, leading nine laps and finishing 22nd.
With Barker at the helm, Blaney qualified a then-career best third and led 16 of the race's first 25 laps before exiting with engine failure, echoing a dominant performance in the spring, 2001 AMS race that ended in disappointment when a wheel came loose on the backstretch while leading the race following a pit stop.
On Friday, Blaney won his first career Winston Cup pole position (in his 113th race, Barker's sixth) at North Carolina Speedway with a new Jasper Motorsports Taurus that had never turned a lap on any track. With only one hour of rain-delayed practice time available, Blaney and Barker decided--as much of the WC garage did--to use most of the session for on-track work in their planned race mode, which delivered the fastest lap times over 26 laps during the first half-hour.
With only one full qualifying run in the last 12 minutes of the abbreviated practice period, Blaney was unsure how his car would react--until Barker relayed his fast first-lap over the radio. Although he would have to wait out the final 25 cars qualifying runs in the approaching darkness, Blaney's second lap (23.669 secs.) was good enough for his seventh career NASCAR pole, the previous six coming in then-track record times over 62 career Busch Series starts.
"We're really pleased with the way the day went, but we were a little bit scared coming in because we had a brand new car that we had never tested or did anything with, and we had a lot of different stuff than we're used to running," said Blaney, who also improved on his best qualifying effort (third at Richmond last fall) in 37 starts with the #77 Jasper Team. "Everybody did a great job on it. We ran a lot of race trim stuff in the morning and I was really impressed with that, so it was a bonus to get a good qualifying lap.
"I just feel so good for the whole Jasper Motorsports team. They put in so much work this winter. We've had all kinds of new guys come in--including Bootie--and mix in so well with the guys we had and we're really excited about the whole year. We thought we'd come out looking good. We didn't think we'd come out and get the pole, but it is definitely a great deal. We have different kinds of cars, different people building them. We just have a whole bunch of new things. We're just trying to improve our team a little bit everywhere.
"I can't tell you how pleased I was with our car on the first runs of the day. We went out and did some laps in race trim and I was just so impressed. As I said, I was a little apprehensive coming down. The guys just built this thing brand new. It was a different kind of car, type of body, everything from what we've been used to and we didn't do any testing with it, so I didn't know what we would have.
"Right now I know it will race well Sunday, regardless of what happens (with impending bad weather) on Saturday, so we're thrilled. Bootie has just re-energized our whole team. The owners did a great job bringing new people in this winter all through the shop, and the pit crew, and Bootie's got a great attitude instilled in them. I thought we were a greatly improved team on paper, but you never know until you come out and race."
Blaney joins Davey Allison (3/87), Kyle Petty (3/90) and Hut Stricklin (10/95) as the only drivers to score their first career WC pole position at North Carolina Speedway and is the 14th different pole winner in the 17 races at NCS since 1995. Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon are the only repeat Bud Pole winners in the over the past eight years. Ironically, Blaney missed his first (and only) WC race at NCS (2/00) when a Saturday morning practice crash prior to second-round qualifying left his #93 BDR team with an inadequate amount of time to correctly prepare their back-up car.
For team co-owner Mark Harrah, the team's first pole position (and sponsor's second pole--Greg Sacks at Atlanta, 1994) followed a winter of great change--including a split partnership (Ford and Dodge production) within the Penske-Jasper Engine operation--and ambitious goals.
"I think winning this pole is a surprise to everybody but ourselves," said Harrah, also the Team Manager. "Dave and Bootie and all the crew have worked hard through the winter with our team to get the program where it is right now and we have high expectations for ourselves. I don't think this will be the last time you see us here. It was obviously no surprise to us that we came here and unloaded well.
"We had the confidence to pass several tests the last couple of weeks. We came here with a brand new car and knew that we would probably go fast with it. The choice of getting Bootie as our crew chief was an awesome decision. He's done a great job this winter and the guys at the shop have been working 16-hour days getting cars done. We felt like this was probably our weaker car of the cars we have done, so we're getting real excited about Vegas and Atlanta now that we've shown what we can do at Rockingham.
"We also worked really hard to make sure that the ambitious program that Penske-South had undertaken switching to Dodge for 2003 would not affect our cooperative effort with the engines, with which we've made huge progress over the past two seasons. We're the only Ford operation now that benefits from the power they're making.
"We talked about it and there was no question and no doubt in my mind that Penske-Jasper Engines could do the job this year for all the teams--the #2, #12 and the #77. We went to Daytona with plenty of horsepower, we've got healthy engines for the races ahead this spring and we're looking forward to this year with the engine program we've got. If you ever get a chance, Penske-Jasper South down in Concord is an awesome facility. It's second to none. If you ever go by there, you'll understand why we can do both the Ford and Dodge engine programs and still be on top of the horsepower game."
But for Blaney, the euphoria of his first front-row starting position will last only a few hours as he seeks to follow Johnny Benson, who won his first Winston Cup Series race (in his seventh WC season) last November at NCS, to Victory Lane. A win in the Subway 400 at NCS on Sunday would be Blaney's first career stock-car victory in 182 total ARCA, Busch Series and Winston Cup Series starts after a brilliant sprint-car career which yielded a victory every seven races (192 in 1,349 starts).
"It's been tearing my heart out not to win the way I used to when I was in the sprint cars, but it's a whole different game with much higher stakes and--at least for me--a long learning curve to get to where we are today," said Blaney, now in entering his fourth WC season. ""I don't care where we're finally able to get a win but here would be just fine. Anywhere would be fine for me to get that first one and get over the hump. Man, that's a huge hump to get over. But I think once you do it, it comes so much easier. I know I've been through that in the different forms of racing I've been in. I don't know what it is, but it's in your head and you just can't get over it until you win one.
"It's pretty cool to finally get a pole. But everyone knows that Sunday is when it really counts. It does mean a lot, especially for this team that has worked so hard for so long to get to a point where it can be competitive every week. Anytime you can get one of these things, it puts you in that group for (the Bud Shootout) and it's a big deal.
"These Jasper guys have had a team for a long time. They deserve some poles and wins and we're gonna get after it. Man, like I said, I knew we were gonna be a lot better team this year, but I sure didn't expect to come out and win the pole at Rockingham. It's gonna be fun. We've got a lot better team this year and we're gonna do some damage I hope."