Blaney pleased with his stock car progress By Marty Smith
LOS ANGELES (Jan. 4, 2000) Dave Blaney finished seventh in the standings, marking his first trip across the stage at the Busch Series banquet.
Of late, the mass transfer of talented drivers from open-wheel competition to the stock car ranks has proven highly successful. Of that contingent, three-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon and 1999 Raybestos Rookie of the Year Tony Stewart are the most visible, but newcomer Dave Blaney is certainly right on their tail.
Blaney -- who is quite the quick study -- has seemingly mastered fendered cars after just two years of NASCAR competition. This season, the former Pennzoil World of Outlaws champion finished seventh in the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division point standings in Bill Davis' No. 93 Amoco Pontiac.
"Overall, we were happy with the season," Blaney said. "You're never satisfied -- you always wish you could've done more. I wish we would've been a little more consistent and for sure won a race, but we didn't so we'll just try to learn from what we got and make ourselves better for the future."
Beginning in the NASCAR 2000 season, Blaney will team up with Ward Burton and the already potent No. 22 Caterpillar Pontiac squad in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, where he has already proven his worth with back-to-back top-10 qualifying efforts in the final two races of the season.
"I think we're ready to go. I feel good about it. I really like driving the Cup cars," Blaney said. "It seems like I can feel what's going on with them a little better than I can the Busch cars, and that makes me feel good. We've also got a good team to lean on with the Caterpillar team and Ward.
"We just moved our Amoco team into the same shop with the Caterpillar team, so we're all in the same building now. That'll help too, having all the same guys working on both cars."
Not that they need an overt amount of work. Although not completely comfortable in the NASCAR Busch Series machine, Blaney notched five top-5 and 12 top-10 finishes, drastically bettering his 1998 output that included a 29th-place finish in the points, no top-5s and just three top-10s. Obviously, the team continues to ride the learning curve.
"I learned so many things in every race this year, and last year too," Blaney said. "Especially running behind Mark Martin, Jeff Burton or Gordon. Anytime you can run with the top guys who have a lot of experience, you can't help but learn. You just try to pick up where is the best place on the track to pass or make up ground. And you learn that just by running with them.
"We ran second a couple times, at Atlanta and Darlington and learned a lot both times. We ran real good at Darlington, ran second to Mark Martin and anytime you do that you learn a lot. We had a couple thirds too, Michigan and Rockingham. We had a car capable of winning a few times, but just never did finish the deal there. That was our main deal though, learn as much as we could heading into next year."
And, heading into next year, things look extremely bright for Blaney. He's a member of the finest rookie class ever assembled in NASCAR Winston Cup Series competition, he's teaming up with one of the hottest teams in all of NASCAR and his crew chief just signed a three year contract extension.
His only gripe? He wishes he'd have gotten into NASCAR sooner.
"I really didn't have any expectations coming in," said Blaney of his two year stint in the NASCAR Busch Series. "I'll tell you, I've been around racing my whole life, and I know how hard it is to come into a new series, especially one like the Busch Series where the whole field is always within a half second of each other.
"Things are down to such a fine little line that you can't make many mistakes, can't take too many chances. It's definitely a tough road for somebody to come in and learn, but it's been great. I just wish I'd have had the chance or made the move into NASCAR racing a lot sooner than I did."