HIGH POINT, NC -- For a stock-car driver in only his third-ever season of fendered racing, Dave Blaney's analogy for the start of his rookie season in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series is both pointed and poignant. After a particularly taxing...
HIGH POINT, NC -- For a stock-car driver in only his third-ever season of fendered racing, Dave Blaney's analogy for the start of his rookie season in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series is both pointed and poignant. After a particularly taxing afternoon on-track last month, Blaney told Amoco Ultimate Team 93 Crew Chief Gil Martin he felt like he was "going to college with a kindergarten education".
In his first season of NASCAR racing in 1998, Blaney struggled through mid-summer to learn the basics of stock cars after 15 sterling seasons of sprint-car excellence. And at just the point when almost everyone but his young crew, car owner Bill Davis and sponsor Amoco were wondering about his project, Blaney began to make dramatic progress, closing the on-track gap while he worked to fill in the subtle sciences of the sport so important to success at NASCAR's top competitive levels.
After a sixth-place finish by his #93 Amoco team in the Busch Series team standings last year, Blaney had produced in his 51 BGN starts at BDR five track-record qualifying efforts and at least one top-ten finish at more than half of the tracks on which he would compete with a deep first-year class for the 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year honors. But Blaney and owner Davis knew that the gap between the Blaney and almost every WC veteran at translating the changing demands of a stock car week-to-week and day-to-day would be magnified once the #93 Amoco/Siemens team graduated to the Winston Cup Series this season.
"No one with our group is satisfied with the first third of our season," said Blaney as he prepared for the MBNA 200 (in the #20 AT&T BDR Busch Series entry) and the MBNA 400 at Dover Downs this weekend. "We have struggled much more than I thought we would, really. Some of that is due to my inexperience. I had a long way to go when I came to stock cars as far as getting to where I could tell Gil and the guys what I needed under me. We made great progress during the two Busch years but the gap that's still there for me widened for me with the step up to Winston Cup.
"Every driver -- with the exception of Scott Pruett and maybe Robbie Gordon -- is ahead of me on that curve. But we're gaining on it. What has not been good is the parts or systems failures we've had in four of the past five races. The #22 team is 54 points out of first-place and we have the same stuff as they do. That shouldn't be happening and we're taking steps to make sure that stops.
"We've got a a real good situation at Bill Davis Racing with Ward and the Cat team having a great year -- right up front every week. But we are a new team. We got all new people and a new driver, an inexperienced driver. I really hope the second time around at some of these tracks, where we can look back at what we did, I think we'll pick up quite a bit. That was really the case my first year in the Busch Series in the second half of 1998. For the first 30 months of my being in NASCAR, we've always said that our progress chart is really only relevant to us and I think that's still the case."
With a 36th-place ranking in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series team standings entering Dover and a string of mechanical failures dating back to early April, Blaney and the #93 Amoco/Siemens team would ordinarily be viewed as a vulnerable target for fatalists were it not for the unfailing confidence from Davis, Amoco and teammates Burton and #22 Caterpillar/Polaris Crew Chief Tommy Baldwin that Blaney has a big NASCAR future once his big learning curve is a little smaller.
"I knew the whole thing would be difficult with a rookie driver and a first-year team," said Davis, who graduated his Busch Series team to the Winston Cup Series in 1993 with then-rookie Bobby Labonte. "I've been through this before. But what I may have done is underestimate the people and the tools Dave and the Amoco team needed to go to battle. I was determined that adding a second team was not going to detract from the momentum that the #22 team was building over the past season and I think we accomplished that.
"The thing that's been most disappointing lately are the races where we've broken pieces or they've beaten themselves with what I see as avoidable mistakes. We will improve in that area over the next few weeks. The problem with the way the first third of the season has gone for Dave is that I had hoped he could make as many competitive laps as he could and be ready to race in the second half. Just making laps riding around after repairs doesn't get that accomplished.
"Nothing I've seen so far, though, makes me think any less of Dave's future out here. He's a racer through and through and I'll take a racer every time over a driver that doesn't understand all that means. He can do this at this level. And he will."
High on Davis' list of priorities as the NASCAR Winston Cup Series' 12th multi-car owner is that the points-per-week for each of his team's be as high as possible, pointing eventually to a pair of competitive programs much like the two Joe Gibbs Pontiacs instead of a primary-secondary set up reflected in several other multi-team WC programs.
And despite the slow start for the #93 Amoco/Siemens team, the points-per-race average of the Bill Davis Racing teams ranks sixth in its first season of multi-car structure (see chart below) among the 12 multi-team programs (encompassing 28 full-time cars), a substantial achievement given the lame-duck status of then team's Pontiac relationship and and the growing priority of the research-and-development elements in preparation for next season's transition by both the #22 Caterpillar and #93 Amoco teams to the Dodge nameplate.
"We didn't bring Dave and the Amoco team into the fold just for R&D purposes," said Davis. "We knew it would take time for them to get up to speed, just as it took Ward and the #22 team time to get to the level they're at today. And they've still growing, still building. I'm not certain Dave might not be affected more by the situation with Pontiac than any other factor. A first-year driver needs a strong infrastructure to build on and we're in a transition period.
"It certainly hurts our overall program that we've got no more factory support from Pontiac anymore. We don't even know what's going on. We don't have any conversations with them any more. And as the summer approaches, much of our focus is toward 2001 and the Dodge program.
"The #22 team probably shouldn't be where it is in the points right now and the fact that they are is a tribute to how hard these guys work, how smart they are and the fact that over a period of time, we were able to get the right people in place. We'll do the same with Dave and the #93 team. It took Ward a long time to mature into the driver he is today and people never gave up on the notion that he was going to be a front-runner with this team. I hope they'll give Dave the same consideration. No one ever questioned that Dale, Jr. and Matt Kenseth were on track for the sort of success they're having. Dave and the other rookies were on a different chart. He'll get there."
MULTI-TEAM PER-RACE POINTS AVERAGES (12 races through the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte)
RaceTeam (Entries/Per-Race Points Avg.)
JOE GIBBS RACING 24 -- 134.483
ROBERT YATES RACING 24 -- 131.833
RICHARD CHILDRESS RACING 24 -- 129.042
PENSKE-KRANEFUSS RACING 24 -- 128.833
JACK ROUSH RACING 59 -- 120.508
BILL DAVIS RACING 23 -- 110.044
HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS 36 -- 109.139
DALE EARNHARDT, INC. 24 -- 107.875
TEAM SABCO 24 -- 92.499
PETTY ENTERPRISES 24 -- 90.217
HAAS-CARTER MOTORSPORTS 23 -- 81.272
ANDY PETREE RACING 24 -- 80.583