HIGH POINT, NC -- After Dave Blaney's break-out performance in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series race three weeks ago in Atlanta, motorsports insiders and fans have been jumping on the Dave Blaney Bandwagon daily. But -- given his self-depricating ...
HIGH POINT, NC -- After Dave Blaney's break-out performance in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series race three weeks ago in Atlanta, motorsports insiders and fans have been jumping on the Dave Blaney Bandwagon daily. But -- given his self-depricating nature and the fact that so many of those same folks had buried his stock-car career early in his transition from sprint cars -- Blaney is surprised that such a bandwagon exists at all.
Don't count Crew Chief Doug Randolph among those new to the support group and don't overlook his immense achievement as a novice team leader with a driver maligned by many not for his on-track potentials but only for NOT being Matt Kenseth or Dale Earnhardt, Jr., the first-year drivers who led Blaney for last year's top WC rookie honors.
Randolph -- Car Chief for the #22 Caterpillar team at Bill Davis Racing until mid-July 2000 -- understood the magnitude of Blaney's challenge to graduate from a stock-car ground-zero to Winston Cup regular in three years. He also understood that Blaney's maturation process might not necessarily match the pace expected by industry marketing experts setting storylines based on their needs, not the realities of the sport.
Paired with unqualified support of and confidence in Blaney from Car Owner Davis, Randolph took over the Amoco Ultimate Team 93 prior to the second WC race at Pocono with an entirely new crew lineup, assuming the #93 crew chief position from Gil Martin. Randolph acknowledges that Martin, now a key player with Richard Childress Racing, deserves a significant share of the credit for nurturing Blaney through the first 30 months of his NASCAR experience after coming to BDR with only six stock-car starts at any level.
In only his 20th start as a crew chief, Randolph guided Blaney to a startling performance in Atlanta, during which the #93 Amoco/Siemens Intrepid led 70 laps, proved itself the dominant car in the field through the race's middle stages and flirted with registering a red-letter victory for both Blaney (his first) and for Dodge (the company's first after a two-decade-plus NASCAR absence). In the end, a probable pit mistake by the young #93 crew and/or drive-plate failure doomed the Buckeye Bullet to footnote-status while Kevin Harvick posted an emotional win in the RCR Goodwrench Chevrolet.
"There's no question this team's getting better every week, the driver improves every time he sits in the seat and we're in a great position with a great new race car and a situation at Bill Davis Racing where we have all the tools we'd ever need," said Randolph. "Unlike so many situations where your scale for improvement in limited by a weak motor program or inferior program elements, we don't have those things holding this team back.
"This group is still in the process of coming together and we'll have situations come up like happened to us at Atlanta. But we also control our own destiny now because it's apparent that the driver is not holding us back. Early on, Dave was really new to all this on the stock-car side and -- while I believe he'll get a whole lot better -- he's come far enough where he can run every week with the best guys out here.
"Really, it's a little hard to believe that he's come so far so fast. These are some of the best drivers in the world here in the Winston Cup Series and it took some of them a long time and a lot of stock car races on several levels to get to where they are. Some guys are out here for years and don't dominate a race like he was for a while at Atlanta."
Since he began his late-season, 2000 surge with a ninth-place finish at Phoenix, Blaney has posted more top-ten starts and finishes than either Kenseth or Earnhardt, Jr. and has a better average-start (12.5) and average-finish (22) than either of his Class of 2000 rookie peers over the eight-race stretch. Excluding his start on points (33rd) at Darlington, Blaney also has qualified no lower than 19th for any race since last October.
For this weekend's Winston Cup date at Texas Motor Speedway, Blaney and Randolph will bring the same car/chassis that performed so spectacularly at Atlanta to another 1.5-mile track, the track configuration to which Blaney has adapted most quickly during his brief stock-car experience. In only 54 Busch Series starts in 1998-99, Blaney won four of his six poles on NASCAR's 1.5-mile layouts (Charlotte-2, Atlanta, Texas); all in then-track-record time and his second-place finish in the 1999 spring race at Atlanta is his career-best NASCAR finish.
And while Blaney's progress is obvious, Randolph has been the leader and linch-pin for the maturation of the fledgling #93 Amoco/Siemens team, which debuted at BDR during a frantic transition time in 2000 when a new race-shop and race car (Dodge) while their rookie driver was suffering predictable learning pains.
Randolph, a native of Morristown, TN., began his motorsports career while a student at the University of Tennessee, where he graduated in 1988 with a B.S. in wildlife and fisheries biology. During college, Randolph worked as weekend help for the NASCAR Busch Series team of veteran driver L.D. Ottinger.
After graduation, Randolph decided to join Ottinger's team as a full-time crew member, as a fabricator and tire specialist. His intent was to return to Law School with specialization in wildlife law after several years in motorsports but his success with the front-running Busch team deferred Randolph's long-term intent with his area of formal training.
When Ron Parker became the co-owner of Ottinger's team and decided to move the team to North Carolina in 1991, Randolph moved to NC but to work for Junior Johnson's second NASCAR Winston Cup team with driver Sterling Marlin. He remained in North Wilkesboro with the legendary former driver for four seasons before joining Larry Hedrick Motorsports at the start of the 1995 season. He served as car chief for the #41 team during the final two years of his four-year tenure with owner Hedrick before moving to Bill Davis Racing in the same capacity in mid-February, 1999.
"Doug's been really solid for a guy who'd never been a crew chief and was thrown into a first-year team in midst of a mid-year transition," said Blaney. "Probably -- with as much as I had to learn about these cars and as tough as the Winston Cup field is every week -- we should still be struggling a little more than we are.
"But a lot of our guys are pretty new to the Winston Cup level and they're learning right along with me. We'll have our days like Las Vegas -- where both the our (BDR) cars were off the radar screen -- but I think we're getting closer to the time when we can be there most every week to make a little noise. We've still got a lot to learn with the Dodge, too, but the second time around at some of these tracks -- once we've gotten a better feel on the differences between the Intrepid and the Pontiacs -- I think we'll be much better."
*****NOTE---Blaney will play a role in both race events at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend, driving the #93 Amoco/Siemens Winston Cup entry and serving as owner of the #10 World of Outlaws team for younger brother Dale Blaney at the TMS dirt track during weekend events at the sprint-car track. Blaney's #10 MBNA/US Print entry is one of only two regular WoO teams to use Dodge engines.
As he settles in as a successful Winston Cup Series regular, Blaney -- the 1995 World of Outlaws champion -- now qualifies as the only former WoO standout to make the complete transition to NASCAR -- something neither perennial WoO champions Steve Kinser nor Sammy Swindell was able to accomplish.
-Bill Davis Racing