Bill Davis Racing dodge development, part six

HIGH POINT, N.C. -- Like every other driver during January, Dave2 Blaney can't wait for the 2001 racing season to begin. Unlike every other NASCAR Winston Cup driver with the exception of 2000 champion Bobby Labonte, Blaney was not ready for the...

HIGH POINT, N.C. -- Like every other driver during January, Dave2 Blaney can't wait for the 2001 racing season to begin. Unlike every other NASCAR Winston Cup driver with the exception of 2000 champion Bobby Labonte, Blaney was not ready for the 2000 season to end when it ground to a halt on a cold Thanksgiving-week Monday in Atlanta.

After ten months of grueling cross-country competition in the Winston Cup Series, most drivers, crews and owners are drained and yearning for a break. By the season-finale in Atlanta, however, Blaney and his young Amoco Ultimate Team 93 were just hitting their stride after a difficult rookie Winston Cup season during which the crew chief and the entire at-track crew were replaced between the two Atlanta races.

With the arrival of Crew Chief Doug Randolph (from the #22 BDR team) in July, Blaney's team began its four-month resurgence, finishing with top-ten finishes at Phoenix (eighth) and Miami (ninth) and a strong race-long run at the front in Atlanta -- where Blaney suffered front-end damage on the race's final restart while in fourth place.

The #93 Amoco/Siemens team also showed top-ten form at other second-half events such as Michigan, Richmond and Charlotte, where Blaney ran with the top-five finishers throughout the second half of the race after being caught a lap-down by an ill-timed caution flag following a green-flag pit-stop.

The late-season momentum by Blaney -- who finished third in the 2000 WC Rookie-of-the-Year race behind Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. -- made him wish for another month of racing and also prompted him to look ahead with the confidence that the worst of his three-year transition from sprint cars to stock cars was finally behind him.

"The way things ended up, it would have suited me just fine to just keep on going and race right through the winter," said Blaney. "Over the last two months, we were competitive almost everywhere we went but it took a long time to get enough experience for both the driver and the crew to make it all work right.

"When we got into the off-season testing of the new Dodge, I found that I was way more comfortable in the cars than at any point last season. I'm sure to those who weren't watching it as closely as we were, it looked like someone had just flipped on a light switch and all of a sudden there we were at the front. It happened gradually throughout the fall.

"Just like any other team sport, you interrupt everything that you're doing when you make big personnel changes like we did. We had a whole new crew from about mid-season on and it took me a while to get going with them. When Doug (Randolph) moved to our team from the (car chief position with the) #22 Caterpillar team, both teams started working together more completely and that's the whole point with moving to a two-car set-up.

"Form the start, Ward has been really helpful with me as I made the move from the World of Outlaws (in 1998) and that relationship is important. But I believe it's even more important that the communication between the crew chiefs is seamless and Doug and (#22 Crew Chief) Tommy Baldwin had a great working set-up when they were both together on the Caterpillar team.

"I knew there were some better days ahead as we got to Labor Day because the signs were all there. We finally had some trouble-free days at the end of the season that showed just how far we'd come since the start of the year at Daytona. It helped everyone in the shop because we were right in the middle of getting all the Dodges built for this season and everyone was working so hard on the transition. Honestly, I believe the way we finished with the #93 team may have helped the guys in the shop more than it helped me."

A significant player in the off-season testing of the new Dodge Intrepid for Bill Davis Racing, Blaney is confident that the new car -- replacing the Pontiac Grand Prix for both he and teammate Burton -- will be a vast improvement from the start as BDR joins Petty Enterprises, Evernham Motorsports, Ganassi Racing and Melling Racing in the historic return of the Dodge nameplate to the NASCAR Winston Cup Series during Speedweeks 2001.

"What time I've had in the car, I can tell you that it seems to be a better downforce car than the Pontiac and seems to stick to the track much better where you need it to. It feels light and that is a bonus everywhere we go. The engine program has come along way in a real short time and I think we're going to be OK in that area, too.

"A lot of people seems to be concerned about the speeds we showed during the Dodge test in Daytona but I think most of the teams went down there trying to get good baselines to work from for all of Speedweeks, not just all the time you spend getting ready to make that one qualifying lap. It's important, don't get me wrong, and especially for a team like ours that finished way down (33rd) in the points.

"With the new superspeedway rules that we ran last fall in Talladega, what you run in qualifying at Daytona will have very little bearing on how you will run in the race. We've runs lots of testing miles and the engine have spent hours on the dyno but we really won't know how the Dodge will run in the draft with the Fords, Chevys and Pontiacs until we see Bill Elliott run in the Bud Shootout or really until that 11 a.m. practice on the Monday morning after that. At testing, we were looking at lots of things, not just raw speed.

"To tell the truth, I'm not that concerned with how we do at Daytona. I know it's the biggest race we have but with restrictor-place these days, you never know what is going to happen anyway. Most of our off-season plan has focused as much on the first 20% of the season as it has getting ready to run one qualifying lap at Daytona.

"We want to have a good Daytona 500 but we're really looking ahead to races #2 through #7 (Rockingham, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Darlington, Bristol, Texas). Our team needs to start off good, put up some good finishes and get positioned in the points where we're comfortable. Everyone wants to do that but I think that's real important to a young team that's going to battle with a brand new race car."

But the most telling change with the #93 Amoco/Siemens team and Blaney remains the pace at which he has matured after being given the almost impossible task of becoming and established Winston Cup regular in only three seasons of stock-car schooling after leaving his perch as one of the World of Outlaws premier drivers after the 1997 season.

The scope of Blaney's daunting challenge was not lost on a WC peer who -- upon learning that the Buckeye Bullet has only 97 total NASCAR (Busch and Winston Cup Series) starts on his resume entering the 2001 season -- noted that "my son has run more stock-car races than that and he's only 19." In the end -- as Car Owner Bill Davis repeatedly insisted during his rocky rookie year -- the ascendance for Blaney came only with more seat-time.

"The real problem last year was my not having enough experience in these cars and it not being a two-way street at the track," said Blaney. "Everyone could help me, but I couldn't give them much help for a while. That's all getting better every time I get in the car. That's been the case in testing since the season ended. The #22 team can do one thing and the #93 team can do another and then bring it all together to compliment the total effort of both cars. It's working out like it should have all along.

"I have more experience and more confidence. It's not any different in any other racing discipline. The name of the game is knowing what the car is doing and knowing the direction you need to go make it faster. That's what makes a good sprint car driver. That's what makes a good Indy car driver. That's what separates the average driver at a weekly track from the ones that have a big future at a higher level.

"I raced sprint cars a long time and I was so good at it, that's probably why it took me so long to figure these cars out. I'm getting better as a stock-car driver and that relationship with the crew, in knowing how to make the car better, is what separates the good teams from the average teams. I'm hoping we'll not be average this year."

During Speedweeks 2001, Dave Blaney will also debut his self-designed prototype sprint-car chassis during events at Volusia County Speedway in Barberville (2/8 through 2/11). Dale Blaney, younger brother of the former WoO champion/owner of the #10 DB Racing sprint car, finished seventh in the overall World of Outlaws standings in 2000.

-Bill Armour

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Bill Elliott , Matt Kenseth , Dave Blaney
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing , Bill Davis Racing