WARD BURTON (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: Burton, a 40-year-old driver from South Boston, Va., has two victories in 16 starts at Darlington Raceway. Burton won last year's Mountain Dew Southern 500 and finished 12th in the 2001...
WARD BURTON (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Burton, a 40-year-old driver from South Boston, Va., has two victories in 16 starts at Darlington Raceway. Burton won last year's Mountain Dew Southern 500 and finished 12th in the 2001 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400. The 2002 Daytona 500 winner ranks third in the series standings after the first four races, just 80 points behind leader Sterling Marlin, driver of the No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T.
"We're just going to try to keep focused and run one race at a time. The main thing is to run all the laps in all the races and work hard and have a shot at it at the end of the race. We had way too many DNFs last year. That's what we're working really hard on. We want to finish the races and if we finish them we'll have a shot at having a real good competitive finish at the end of the day.
"I think we've both (crew chief Tommy Baldwin and Burton) have matured a lot. We keep our emotions a little bit more in check than we did when we first got together. He's been a good friend, and he works really hard not on ly as a manager but also as a crew chief at the race track and off the race track. I'm very confident with him and his leadership. He does a great job for all of us.
COMMENT ON WILDLIFE FOUNDATION
"We did a fund raiser with Outdoor News in Minnesota. That was called the Woodduck Challenge. We had partners with Big Brothers and Big Sisters who got 1,400 children and they're putting together Woodduck boxes. Then they got with Future Farmers of America and then they're going out with Big Brothers and Big Sisters and actually putting the Woodduck boxes on some pond sites or some marsh sites. We went to Alabama and actually did a hunt with Jackie Bushman and Buckmasters and that was with Make a Wish Children and children that had special needs and got to see some of their dreams come true with hunting some whitetails. We went to Tara Wildlife Management area in Mississippi to meet with Maggie Bryant, who has made a lot of difference in that area with wildlife management. We're talking with her about becoming a partner with our foundation. We're still doing our educational programs and still managing our lands and working real hard to create more partners. I don't know how much money I give every year to the wildlife foundation, but it's six figures every year. It can't be dependent on just me. That's why we need more partners, whether it's the corporate level or membership level. It's The Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation, and we work very hard on that."
COMMENT ON NASCAR'S NEW PIT ROAD RULE
"Obviously we'd rather have a stop and go because it's not the end of the day for you. The other way we're going to have the rule, it's definitely going to put you a lap down. In NASCAR's defense, when you're having green flag stops and you're having a lot of cars pit, there's no way they can communicate to five different NASCAR officials at the same time if five different people were speeding and catch all five of 'em. To be fair to everyone, this is probably the only way they can do it."
COMMENT ON DRIVER'S RELATIONSHIP WITH CREW CHIEF
"Tommy and I have become like family. Tommy sees the best in me and the worst in me and vice versa. He can say something or I can say something at the moment or in the heat of the battle and it bounces right off of us. We're pretty thick skinned with each other because emotions do run high when certain things happen. We know we're both fighting for the same goal, and everybody on our team is working for the same goal. The big picture is we're on the same side of each other. At the end of the day, no matter what happens out there, whether I make a good call or he makes a bad call or vice versa or I mess up on the track or whatever, we're still a team. We've got a lot of we's on our team. We don't have a lot of I's. We don't have trouble with egos. We're all doing things well together or not well together, so we just have to stay focused and realize none of us are perfect and work hard to better ourselves, but we all have to do that together, so we all lean on each other for strength. I needed a change bad when Tommy came on board. It was a breath of fresh air for me. He has done a magnificent job with the way the shop is being run now, and it's being single-handedly done with his energy and his guidance. That energy and leadership turns over while we're at the race track. He's been good for me, and I think there's some qualities of myself that I've been good for him."
COMMENT ON STEVE PARK'S RETURN
"Steve is a good race car driver, and he's always been one of the guys you could run side by side with and be able to trust him. Any time somebody hasn't been racing with us for awhile, and it hasn't been somebody you're used to being around, obviously you pay a little more attention to him than you did before. Hopefully if DEI thinks he's ready and he thinks he's ready, certainly the doctors and NASCAR have obviously cleared him. He is ready. I don't think the sanctioning body would let Steve come back if he wasn't ready, so for the most part, Steve is just going to have to adjust and you're not going to do it overnight, probably. All the changes that have taken place with the way these cars feel from the time he got hurt to what we're doing now is obviously going to be an adjustment for him or anybody else."
WHAT IS THE KEY TO RUNNING WELL AT DARLINGTON?
"I've always liked that track. It's a challenge physically and mentally. You can have a really fast car, but a lot of things can happen to yourself and the car during the course of the race. You just have to really stay on your toes. The most important thing, is you've got to have a great team give you a great race car. It doesn't matter where you go. If you don't have a car capable of winning and you've got a 20th-place car, the chances of 19 cars wrecking and you winning the race is slim. You've got to have a good car to give you the ability to win the race. My Caterpillar team has done a good job over the years at a lot of those races to give me a car that's capable of winning."
HOW HAS YOUR LIFE CHANGED SINCE WINNING DAYTONA 500?
"It was a whirlwind from the time we won the race until the time we got home late Tuesday night. It was good to be home and see my friends and family and people who support us. We were heading to the race track Thursday, so it was fun to see our competitors that weekend, but we had another race to run at Rockingham. Really, the time it sunk in to me was last week because I had time to do my normally weekly thing and take the kids to school and work at the office, go to the shop once a week. I went out to my farm and did a little work out there. That was when the impact of the win and the excitement it has generated for our team and sponsors started to sink in. It's amazing the amount of energy the media and our sponsors and team members have fed off of this. It's been great for everybody that's helped us get to this point."
BILL DAVIS (Car owner Bill Davis Racing Dodge Intrepid R/Ts with driver Ward Burton and Hut Stricklin)
"I'm not nearly as hands on as I used to be because there's too many more talented people there. There's too many fabricators, too many welders, too many everything that are much more talented than I am, so I really don't get the opportunity to work on the cars like I did for so many years, much less help on the pit stops and stuff like that. In a way, I like that. That's one of the reasons I got involved in racing. I've always enjoyed the mechanics of the cars and working on them and all that. I've probably got little different approach. I still would consider myself a hands on owner. I'm still there every day and still at the track when the gate opens, probably always will be. This is what I do. I'm getting to live my dream. In the very early days, it was certainly just going to be a hobby. We were very involved in our trucking business, still building it and still growing it. This was really going to just be a diversion. We were still in Arkansas and going to run a few races as a real intense hobby and it just skyrocketed from there.
"I really enjoyed working on every part of the car. In the garage, during practice, whatever. Even last year, we went without an engine tuner on what was then the 93 car for the second half of the season. I eagerly took that over. We had a guy we wanted to hire, and he wanted to stay in place for the rest of the season. I did it. I say last year, it was actually the year before. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed tuning the motor and working on the motor and changing stuff. That was really the last hands on stuff I got to do, but I really did enjoy it.
"That the main thing we do, year after year, really. We try to work with potential sponsors and keep the ones we've got happy. We're a business and industry just like any other. We're in a recession. I think there's maybe been a lot of focus put on sponsorship or the lack of now. I don't know why it would be such a surprise to anyone. Our business is just like any other. We're in a recession, and we're having a hard time here, but fortunately we're so strong and our sport is off the chart with popularity. It's such a good buy for the advertising dollar. We're going to be fine. There's going to be plenty, well, maybe not plenty, but there'll be sponsors as we go into the future and the economy gets better, we'll be in fine shape. I can't look into a crystal ball. I think our economy is already recovering. It's probably not going to be dramatic, but that's probably good. We're seeing some real positive signs, and there's a lot more interest in sponsorship just in the last 30-60 days. I really think by next year we will have recovered and be in good shape.
"In Ward's words, it was a real whirlpool (winning Daytona 500). It was real exciting the first few days, and it finally started to sink in. Just what we've accomplished, if our lives have changed at all, it's just having the realization that we've joined a very elite group of people. There's not many car owners and not many drivers really can say they've won the Daytona 500, and we have. I think I heard Ward say earlier that when we got back to the track and reality kind of set in, and we got to be around our friends, they just came to you. Richard Childress said, 'you just won't believe what you've done.' It took 20 some odd years to do it. We're just real proud of what we did, and I appreciate everybody who helped us do it.
"We sure had a lot of trouble and the 23 car was a victim (of one engine rule) last Sunday. I'm real reserved about it. I think in the overall scheme of things, it could be a good thing for us. One blown motor, falling out of one race will cost a team owner more than he could possibly save with the one engine rule. Practice motors and qualifying motors really and truly don't cost a lot of money. They're used parts and you use them over and over again. I've got real mixed feelings about it. I hope it works out. Everybody has got their own opinion. Last Friday Childress was saying it was the greatest thing that ever happened. I'm sure Sunday night he had a whole different opinion of it. I was for gradually easing into it. My theory was to leave the restrictor plate stuff alone because we already had that inventory. At some of the shorter races, the 400-mile races, let's go to one engine. There's plenty of places we can go to one engine, but give us some time to work through that before we start doing it at 500-mile races. We sure saw a lot of really good teams have trouble Sunday -- Gibbs and Childress and Hendricks. It wasn't the guys running in the back having trouble.
"We've worked so hard and spent so much money to make these cars so aero sensitive. I agree we're not having as good old-fashioned, side-by-side racing that built our sport. That's some of the race track. Sunday we were all over the place. Guys were at the bottom, at the top, side by side, three wide. It's not strictly an aero problem. If you listen to the Tony Stewart camp, they've got such an aero problem they can't even race. It didn't look like it Sunday. I hope (crew chief Greg) Zipadelli didn't choke trying to thank Pontiac for the win. It's a huge issue, but I look at some of the race tracks that have really made for tough racing.
"We've got a lot of one-groove race tracks. Maybe they get better with time and age, but that's where some of our worst racing comes, at places there's just one good, fast line like ww saw at Chicago and Kansas City last year.
"I think there's a ton of little things (that can save money). I don't think there's one big huge thing. Less days at the track. That was a rallying cry a year ago, and we were actually going to try it. We were going to some places for two days instead of three. We had one little slipup, actually this weekend a year ago, and got rain and kind of got jammed up and backed away from it. That alone is the biggest thing that could help us, just spending less time traveling.
"It's got to be such a big industry. When I took my Busch team to the Cup garage in '93, we probably had 14 people and everybody did everything, even rode up and down the road in a van together. Naturally, those days are long gone. We've got 127 people and four big buildings. The industry has changed. It's grown and gotten to be so much bigger. It's a bigger business and has become more of a national sport. I don't know if it's changed relationships between principal people. I'm sure the days of the owner and driver and everybody who works there having a personal relationship, going out to dinner and knowing their families and children and stuff, that's behind us I guess. That's probably a part of any big, major sport. Things had to change for us to get to where we're at and to where we're headed. Things had to change. I think you'll always see the successful driver and crew chief combinations have that personal relationship. They've got to believe in each other and spend a lot of time together. I think that's like a coach and quarterback. That'll probably never change. You have to have that relationship to be successful.
"I think the common template deal is a good deal as long as the manufacturer has their own identity. I don't believe anybody in the stands confuses the Dodge and the Taurus now. That's the same template. I believe we've already proven it can work and will work. I think it makes sense."
TOMMY BALDWIN (Crew Chief No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid R/T)
"Every situation he (Steve Park) has been involved with his whole life, he's had such a good attitude to go forward in life. He's met every high and low with his high so to speak, and he's accomplished everything he's set out to do in his life. This is just another hurdle he had to do. I was just thinking about it the other day, the two accidents that have hurt him the past three years haven't been his fault. He's had such a good attitude coming back, and I hope he's fully recovered now and he runs up front.
"We have gone from mostly hands on to putting someone else in that place and kind of being the organizer, the coach so to speak. We were kind of the quarterback and the coach three or four years ago. It started to change a little bit. The teams have started to get bigger and the money has gotten bigger and it's allowed us to take an approach of organizing and getting things where you want. We've seen some. A lot of them haven't made it because they don't have any hands on experience, and that's hurt 'em. A lot of engineers have jobs but they don't really have the hands on experience and they can't really apply their minds to their hands so to speak on the race cars. We're pretty lucky to have Todd Hulbert, who's dad Al Hulbert, that has both hands on and mind experience. He's been a big asset to the Bill Davis team.
"The pit road rule change is probably a good change. It'll probably keep everybody on their toes a little bit. I think the incident that happened in Vegas wasn't all Sterling's fault. He got spun out and he was trying to gather that thing up trying to get across pit road line. I don't think all of that was Sterling's fault. Maybe NASCAR took that into consideration. The thing I'm not understanding about all these incidents on pit road is it's the veterans that are causing problems. It's the veterans that are running into the back of cars. It's the veterans that are hitting the other crewmen. They're so used to it over the years of going so fast down pit road in the past. The guys that are causing the problems are the real hustlers on pit road. They're always caught speeding. They're always caught for doing something. I think they need to take a couple of seconds, just like the decisions on the speedways, and slow 'em down a little bit so nobody gets hurt.
"If it's done uncontrollable, there should be a penalty. Everybody is making a big deal of NASCAR making penalties of things that are happening, but there's penalties in every sport -- NFL, NBA -- that's what we're trying to address, keeping everybody on an even keel and making the right decisions. I applaud NASCAR trying to turn these negatives into positives.
"I don't think you'll ever stop politicking. The main body templates being the same are OK. There are some differences in the noses and tails, and there's always going to be because the manufacturers are big supporters of NASCAR. You've got to keep a little bit of identification of their models so the fans can relate. You're always going to have a little bit of difference, but NASCAR has done a good job trying to put a handle on that, moving the noses in and out on the cars. I think we're really even right now. The wind tunnel numbers from the other day pretty much shows that some cars are better taped up in qualifying mode, but other cars are better in race mode. I don't think you can change any of that. I think they're pretty good right now. Some cars are better on flat tracks, some cars are better on high banked tracks, some cars are better on speedways. That has to do with the race teams, also. It's not all with the cars. There are some teams that are stronger at some tracks than others. As long as they can keep that in perspective, I think we'll be OK.
"The thing that crew chiefs or anybody who gets involved in any type of businesses, you really need to learn the person you're working with. I've known Ward for about four years now, so I know all his moves. I know what's going to happen when we show up on the race track, and I know what's going to happen come race day, the differences between how he practices and how he races. I know all those things about Ward. It's not a big deal that we don't talk on an everyday basis. We probably touch base every other day. The thing that's so good between me and him is the trust factor. He knows that I'm doing everything I possibly can to make that race car go faster and be safe. I know he's doing everything he possibly can to make that race car run up front. We know that. The team knows that, and that's the most important thing we've got going on right now.
"If I'm starting to step out of bounds a little bit or if he's starting to step out of bounds, we're the first ones to tell each other that we're stepping out of bounds. I think we've matured as a team now. It's frustrating for Ward when we're not going good, and it's frustrating for me when we're not going good, but we know there were a lot of changes last year. We went through a lot of adjustments last year. I think we've got all that patched because he understands what I've been trying to tell him for the past year, what he has to do differently. He knows his race cars are safe and are one of the best out there. We went into this year with a totally different attitude. We know what to expect week in and week out. We're going to do the best we possibly can every Sunday.
"Daytona was a huge win and we did it altogether, the entire Bill Davis organization. I think if anything, it probably helped mellow his mind down a little bit. We're still the same race team. You're only as good as your last race. Daytona is almost a month old right now. It's gotten us in a good position where we're top three in points. We've just got to continue what we've been doing every week.
"I've definitely heard from a lot of people I haven't heard from in a long time. Everywhere I go, people congratulate me. That's pretty cool, but I've got to remind myself to stay leveled headed every day because Daytona is only one race out of this long schedule. It's an awesome feeling that we won that race. There's another one next year we've got to get ready for. I'm pretty pumped up. I think it's definitely given us an edge this year to get off on the right foot, and that's the biggest thing, getting a head start for the year.
"The engine shop is pulling their hair out right now. Those guys are putting in a lot of hours in trying to make these things last and get as much horsepower in 'em as they possibly can. I've got to applaud the engine shop. They're probably a little on the safe side, and that's good because at the end of the year we'll be even better. I'm real excited. I'm real pumped up. Probably seven eighths of the crowd has been with us for three years now, so we know what to expect. We're a solid team together, and I just hope we can continue our success and our planning the way it's been going on so far this year."