Elder Burton ends 2000 season on a peak By Dave Rodman New York (Nov. 29, 2000) Ward Burton, the elder of two racing brothers from South Boston, Va., endured a tumultuous season of peaks and valleys in 2000 but ended on a peak when it ...
Elder Burton ends 2000 season on a peak
By Dave Rodman
New York (Nov. 29, 2000) Ward Burton, the elder of two racing brothers from South Boston, Va., endured a tumultuous season of peaks and valleys in 2000 but ended on a peak when it counted.
Burton, 39, finished a career high ninth in the point standings in 1999. For more than half the season his Caterpillar Pontiac team seemed on pace to improve that, but it endured a rough string at the end of the season in which he finished 22nd or worse in five of the final nine races.
But Burton rebounded to finish third in the season finale NAPA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. As a result, he will be rewarded for a 10th-place finish in the point standings when he walks across the stage at the NASCAR Winston Cup Series Awards Banquet on Dec. 8 at the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria.
He scored 17 top-10 finishes in 34 races in 2000, but highlighted his Bill Davis Racing team's consistency with 22 of 34 finishes being top-15s. Burton scored one victory in 2000, winning the spring Mall.com 400 at Darlington -- Pontiac's first victory there since 1963 -- and scoring his first victory since Rockingham in October 1995.
The finish at Atlanta, however, was Burton's first top-5 since the spring Bristol race in April. And that has car owner Bill Davis perplexed, even while Burton's qualifying, consistency and communication with crew chief Tommy Baldwin put a big smile on his face.
"The 22 team had a great start," Davis said of Burton's team, "but if you've noticed, we have a lull every year. We went through that, we beat ourselves up bad and our confidence got down. But, we finished off strong at Atlanta.
"If this team can mature and prove that we can put it together all year long, week in and week out, we can be championship contenders. We have to get to where we can put it together and play with confidence every week."
Burton claimed the effects of rebuilding teammate Dave Blaney's Amoco Pontiac team and preparing for a switch in 2001 to the Dodge Intrepid might have cost his team some in the performance end in 2000, but Davis didn't agree.
"The team had a lot on its plate this summer getting ready for 2001," Burton said. "I've never been involved with an effort that was so intense on the coming year rather than the year that we're actually in. We have done as much work in the preparation for 2001 in the last three or four months than we have going to the races this summer.
"It has taken away a little bit from our effort, but Pontiac has been a great supporter of the team. GM, in general has been a great supporter of myself since I've been in racing. I've never been in anything but a GM car, so I appreciate everything they have done for me.
"We had the opportunity to win five or six races this year," Burton said. "I know we gave away that second Darlington race, no question about that. We just gave this one away with the caution coming out. But we've had a lot on our plate."
"It became a bigger challenge than we expected because we didn't have the team in place for Blaney that we needed," Davis said of the first year as a two-car NASCAR Winston Cup Series team. "We took two years building it and putting it together and it was not happening. Then, we replaced every person on that team. Blaney showed in the last third of the season, after the team gelled and the chemistry got flowing, what he could do. If Bill Davis had done a better job for Dave Blaney he could've run that way all year long."
"The Dodge development program was a completely separate group in a separate building that did not have any impact on the race effort at all," Davis said. "Todd Holbert, our chief engineer, headed it up and none of the race team was involved with it."
Davis said he was pleased with Burton's work with Baldwin and that was a good starting point to build for next season.
"Yeah -- it would have to be," Davis said. "This sport is all about people and their attitudes. Hopefully they'll both remember Atlanta and how that went -- they have the ability to run like that every week.
"Tommy is an awesome crew chief. He is motivated and focused and he has brought a lot to the table and has the ability to take our deal to the next level.
If Davis had one thing he could definitely be pleased about, it was Burton's consistent performance in qualifying. In 34 races, he qualified in the Bud Pole round all but six times and only had to use three provisional starting positions all season.
"That is real important because you have to get a good starting position and a good spot on pit road," Davis said. "On Saturday morning you have to be working on your race set-up, not worrying about re-qualifying, and that makes it good that we've got two good qualifying teams."
Burton said ending the year with two strong teams, not to mention NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division rookie Scott Wimmer qualifying a third car at Atlanta in a preview of what might be a seven-race program in 2001, was definitely a plus.
"The 93 has picked up a bunch," Burton said of Blaney's team. "Dave and Doug (Randolph, crew chief) are getting better and that's something that we need. The 88 and the 28 (Robert Yates Racing) have got it. The 6 and the 99 (Roush Racing) have got it. The 24 and his two teammates (at Hendrick Motorsports) have obviously been working closely together. The better the 93 does, the better that we'll do in the long run, too." -nascar.com-