HIGH POINT, NC -- As he was sizing up the only two cars left between his ...
HIGH POINT, NC -- As he was sizing up the only two cars left between his #93 Amoco/Siemens Dodge and the race lead in the Harrah's 500 at Texas Motor Speedway with six laps remaining, the thought crossed Dave Blaney's mind that his journey to the front had seemed unreasonably tough throughout a fast, but difficult weekend.
After posting top-ten practice times in preparation for the seventh race of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series season, Blaney suffered tire problems as the first qualifier and was forced to agonize through the final minutes of the Friday session to see if he would even make the race. With the last provisional, Blaney earned the 43rd and final spot in the field with a car that had led 70 laps and dominated the middle stages of the WC race in Atanta three weeks earlier.
In first 24 green-flag laps of the Texas race, Blaney passed 27 cars and was positioned 16th for the second caution period at Lap 35. Exiting pit road, Ken Schrader slammed into Blaney's left-front avoiding another leaving it's pit stall, crippling the handling of the Amoco Ultimate Team 93 Dodge. For 180 laps, Crew Chief Doug Randolph and the Amoco crew battled to fix Blaney's car, making small changes on every stop until he returned the lead-lap on Lap 216.
Over the next 50 laps, Blaney mowed through the lead-lap cars, getting back to seventh when race's sixth caution fell. As he entered pit road, Blaney was slammed into by Rusty Wallace's trailing car, wedging the him in his pit stall while NASCAR officials attended to an injured crewman in an adjacent stall hit by Walace's car. Blaney dropped to 14th.
Through creative pit strategy and a continually-improving car, Blaney trailed only then-leader Johnny Benson, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and rookie Kurt Busch before the race's final restart with 17 laps to go in the 334-lap race. By Lap 325, Blaney found himself on the bumper of Benson and Gordon --and with a very real chance of winning his first NASCAR race after starting shotgun on the field.
And although Dale Jarrett and Steve Park passed the front group on four fresh tires to take the top spots, Blaney finished a career-best sixth, improving 37 positions from start-to-finish to match Jeff Burton's march from 39th to second at Texas last spring. During his arduous journey to the front, Blaney passed 61 cars, including his initial dash to the front.
"We were our own worst enemies with our starting spot because we really thought after practice that we'd start in the top five," said Blaney, whose Texas finish came in only his 105th career stock-car start at any level after 15 standout seasons as a sprint-car champion. "We shouldn't have had to sweat out making the race with a car that was obviously capable of winning the race.
"Schrader really clobbered our left-front but he had nowhere to go either when another car crowded him on pit road. In the deal with Rusty, we were pitting two stalls down from the #2 and he was inside of me and not expecting me to turn into our pit, I guess. I think he said something about our being a lap down all day but I'm not going to be on pit road with him unless we're on the lead lap and we'd just passed them for position on the track. I'm really glad that Sterling's guys didn't get hurt any worse than they did.
"(Crew Chief) Doug (Randolph) and the guys did an unbelievable job of keeping me calm through both of those pit-roqad problems and getting me in a position to win. At the end, I had a good run on Gordon for second but he moved up, we lost momentum and those guys on new tires drove right by us. At the end, we'd run a full gas-stop on our left-side tires (68 laps) so I had all we could handle.
"I felt like we had a top-five car in Atlanta and didn't get it done. This was our Atlanta car and we might have done better than sixth under different circumstances today. Still, it was a great day and one we needed because we've had a car that has run well at half the races this season but just haven't closed the deal. We needed a little boost in the points the way things have gone so we're headed back in the right direction"
**NOTE**--BLANEY will join Winston Cup drivers Tony Stewart and Jerry Nadeau this Saturday night (April 7) at The Dirt Track at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte for the 100-lap Super DIRT Series event. Blaney, the 1995 World of Outlaws champion, will be a teammate with Stewart for owner Brian Goewey, for whom Blaney will run selected NASCAR Busch Series races later this year and for whom Blaney has twice dominated the fabled fall DIRT classic on the one-mile track at the Syracuse Fairgrounds. Lou Blaney, father to sons Dave and Dale (WoO regular in the #10 Blaney-owned sprint car), is still competing and winning in similar cars near the family's home in Northeastern Ohio.