HIGH POINT, NC -- After finishing the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season with top-ten team momentum, Bill Davis believed Ward Burton and his ...
HIGH POINT, NC -- After finishing the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season with top-ten team momentum, Bill Davis believed Ward Burton and his #22 Caterpillar/Polaris team would produce an early-season breakthrough win to go with Burton's first career WC victory at Bill Davis Racing in fall, 1995. The win came three weeks at Darlington. Davis also believed that fast starts were in order for both Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., the front-runners in a crowded class of Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year candidates. The latter won in convincing style last weekend in Texas.
With Dave Blaney -- his own first-year driver who joined teammate Burton to form the first multi-team set-up at BDR -- Davis' expectations were more modest for Amoco Ultimate Team 93 as it moved up from the NASCAR Busch Series and a sixth-place finish in the 1999 team point standings.
While he absorbed a new racing discipline quickly over the past two seasons after 15 years of sprint car excellence, Blaney is still early in his stock-car learning curve with only 69 career starts in fendered cars. Davis knows that patience will lead to production in time for the Buckeye Bullet.
"There was no question that both Dale, Jr. and Matt were the rookies most ready to move up and they've shown that so far," said Davis, who has shown an eye for young talent with former BDR drivers Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon and Bobby Labonte and current WC standout Burton, ranked third in the point standings entering this weekend's event at Martinsville (VA) Speedway. "They won over a third of the Busch Series races over the past two seasons and, if Dale, Jr. had not won his two championships, you can bet Matt Kenseth would have won them. They were both ready to move.
"As it was when he moved over from sprint cars, Dave needs to just run all the laps he can during the first half of this season and then we all need to get together to make new goals for the #93 team. When we sat down and realistically looked at where he was in stock cars going into the year, he's still learning how to read what he's feeling in these stock cars and what he needs under him. He's probably not ready to run at the front with Ward, Mark Martin, Bobby and Terry Labonte and Dale Jarrett each week. But I believe he will be in time. He's only run 70 stock cars races in his life. Dale, Jr. and Matt probably reached that number in Late Models 5-7 years ago. He'll get there."
Entering Martinsville this weekend, Blaney leads all the Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year candidates in laps-completed percentage (96.88%), completing all but 42.269 miles in six starts. Blaney and the #93 Amoco/Siemens team did not qualify for the season's second race at Rockingham after losing his primary racecar in a practice crash two hours before second-round qualifying and all agree the experience was a jolt to the team. Other than a late-race tangle with John Andretti at Bristol (35th) less than 25 miles from the finish, Blaney has produced finishes between 20th and 27th in each of his other starts, ranks third (behind Earnhardt and Kenseth) in both average start and average finish.
"The Busch Series and the Winston Cup Series are way too hard these days to just walk in and be an immediate success," said Davis. "Dave progressed through his rookie Busch year like I thought he would, at the pace we expected. He stepped it up his second year and that's the way it'll happen over here, too. At the start of 1998, he struggled to get going but it wasn't any worse than if Dale, Jr. had gone to the World of Outlaws as a rookie.
"Dave Blaney has the ability to do this and Gil Martin is a proven crew chief with a good bunch of guys under him. We probably should have supported them better and help them grow their team over the winter and at the start of this season. It was important to me that we didn't interfere with the momentum and progress that Ward and the Caterpillar team was making from last year and maybe we didn't put enough emphasis on the challenges ahead for the Amoco team as a whole. But now with Ward's win at Darlington and the great start they've had, the #93 can be more of a focus.
"Dave is a very, very smart race-car driver and he understands the cars very well for a guy who raced and built another type of car for most of his career. He is in the shop every day working on the cars and that will get him ahead of many of the drivers these days. But we have a plan in place that will make him a very successful Winston Cup driver. Our goals are our own; they're not goals just to match what somebody else does. He'll still have tough days and certain tracks but he'll grow and become stronger because of them. He's perfectly happy without the glitz and the glamour of the other guys. Nothing I've seen so far in 2000 makes me think any different about where he's going and what he can do as a regular on the Winston Cup circuit."