Dave Blaney, driver of the No. 77 Jasper Engines & Transmissions Taurus, and the team's crew chief, Ryan Pemberton, were guests on this week's NASCAR Winston Cup teleconference. Blaney heads into Saturday night's Sharpie 500 at Bristol Motor ...
Dave Blaney, driver of the No. 77 Jasper Engines & Transmissions Taurus, and the team's crew chief, Ryan Pemberton, were guests on this week's NASCAR Winston Cup teleconference. Blaney heads into Saturday night's Sharpie 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway in 20th place in the points standings following an 18th- place showing at Michigan last Sunday.
DAVE BLANEY-77-Jasper Engines & Transmission
YOU HAVE AN EXTENSIVE SPRINT-CAR BACKGROUND. HOW CAN YOU TAKE WHAT YOU LEARNED AS A SPRINT-CAR DRIVER AND APPLY IT TO THE SHORT TRACK AT BRISTOL?
"Well, if they'd go ahead and spread that dirt back on Bristol, I'd have a little edge. But, since they're not going to do that, nothing, really. The Cup cars and the speedways are just totally different animals than the sprint cars on dirt tracks, so you take your basic knowledge, the racing knowledge you learn, but you got to apply it to a whole different car."
DO THE DRIVERS GET AS EXCITED ABOUT VISITING BRISTOL FOR THE SATURDAY NIGHT RACE AS THE FANS DO?
"I can't say that it's fun for me, but it still amazes me, all the people that come out to our races every single week - especially that race. There's so many camera flashes going off, and there's such an atmosphere about it. It's fun, but we got a job to do there and an all-night job to do, so you can't get too caught up there."
THIS IS YOUR FIRST YEAR WITH THE NO. 77 JASPER ENGINES & TRANSMISSIONS TEAM. YOUR ASSESSMENT, SO FAR. "We have shown some flashes of running real good, and we're pretty pleased by that. You gotta have that first, and we just need to be more consistent in our finishes, just consistently faster all day long. We seem to have good parts of races, but never a whole good race, or it's hard to come by. So, that's just growing together and figuring out what to do with our cars and equipment and our team. But, we see signs of improving and signs that we can get it done, so that's good."
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY ABOUT DIRT-TRACK RACING? HOW DO YOU MANAGE TO FIT IT INTO YOUR BUSY SCHEDULE?
"That's where I came from, that's what I am, as far as I'm concerned, is a dirt-track guy. It's just fun to do. It's a break for us. It used to be my job and we were pretty high-strung doing it, but now it's a fun day for me, and I probably enjoy it more now than I used to do it when I was doing it full-time. So, we try to squeeze it into the schedule whenever we can. Tony Stewart and I running four, five or six of them together this year on dirt tracks, and there will be one of them coming up here this Thursday in New Jersey at New Egypt. So, we're looking forward to it, and we'll squeeze them in when we can."
EVERYBODY TALKS ABOUT HOW TOUGH THE WINSTON CUP SCHEDULE IS, BUT THE WORLD OF OUTLAWS GO EVERY OTHER NIGHT - IF NOT EVERY NIGHT. IS THE WINSTON CUP SCHEDULE ALMOST LIKE A VACATION FOR YOU BECAUSE THERE'S NOT AS MANY RACES?
"It actually is a little bit easier on the Winston Cup side - and I'm talking from the driver's standpoint. The crew guys, it's just as tough or tougher on the Cup side. They work lots of hours. But, on the driver's side, we're flying to all the races anymore that are any distance away. The Outlaw side, we drove everything, no matter if it was on the other coast, so that's a bunch easier. You know, with the Cup schedule, you're sitting at the same race track Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Well, the Outlaw cars might race the same amount of days - Friday, Saturday, Sunday - but they might be in a different state every single night, so you gotta load it up and move it and do it all over again. Good parts and bad to both of them. But, hey, I like 'em both. The traveling never bothered me anyway, so I don't care."
YOU WERE ARE ONE OF THE FEW TO MAKE THE TRANISITION FROM DIRT TRACK TO WINSTON CUP WITHOUT HAVING TO GO BACK. WHAT DID YOU DO DIFFERENTLY?
"I think I was committed to doing it. I wasn't going to go back unless I had no other option. I think I got lucky in the fact that I had Amoco behind me and Bill Davis Racing, and they got me going my first couple years in Busch. And there were plenty of days where it creeped into my mind about going back, when we were struggling. But, I'm just loving the chance that I've got to do this and I look back and have two careers: I had a dirt-track career and I'll have a NASCAR career, so that's great."
YOU MENTIONED THAT YOU'VE SEEN SOME FLASHES FROM THIS TEAM. SOMETIMES THE MEDIA OR FANS DON'T SEE THE SAME THING. WHAT IS IT THAT YOU'RE SEEING?
"A lot of times, certain part of the races, you'll get really fast and you can run up front, and then you'll have trouble. You might have trouble in the pits or you might miss it on the next set of tires, but you know that when you get your stuff right you can compete at the front. You go through that stage where you're up and down, and on and off, but you gotta get to that stage to get to the next one, where you're consistently fast. So, we feel like we're climbing the ladder here."
DOES IT GET FRUSTRATING LOOKING FOR THAT CONSISTENCY?
"Every day. Every day. It's frustrating on a bunch of sides. I come from the dirt tracks, where I was used to winning races and that's hard on you, when you don't have a chance to win too many times and you're not running as good as you want to. It's tough every day. It's tough to keep yourself up and positive and the crew as well.'
EARLY IN THE SEASON, WHEN JIMMIE JOHNSON AND SOME OF THE YOUNGER DRIVERS WERE HAVING SUCH GREAT SUCCESS, A LOT OF PEOPLE SAID THE VETERANS WOULD BOUNCE BACK. DID YOU SENSE THAT WOULD HAPPEN? WHY?
"Honestly, I didn't care. I'm worried about my team. I'm not worried about young guys and old guys, and honestly it's pretty funny to me. I don't think it matters one bit. You know, when you're younger you're probably a little more aggressive, and that's not always a positive, and when you're older you're probably a little wiser, so it doesn't matter, really. Age, I can't see it mattering. If a guy can get it done, he can get it done. It doesn't matter how old he is."
WHEN YOU GO FROM A BIG TRACK LIKE MICHIGAN TO A SMALL TRACK LIKE BRISTOL, DO YOU HAVE TO CHANGE YOUR MINDSET?
"Not really. It's nothing we're not used to doing week-in and week-out. Things do happen exceptionally fast at Bristol. A car can be 10 car lengths in front of you and if he gets in just the least bit of trouble, you're going to hit him, if you don't really pay attention and take some steps to miss him. The closing rate is just really fast at Bristol and you don't have much to think, but you're on to that in a few laps. So, yeah, it's a different mindset, but like I said, we're used to it."
CAN YOU COMPARE BRISTOL TO DIRT TRACKS? YOU MENTIONED CLOSING SPEED. IS BRISTOL AS CLOSE AS IT GETS TO THAT?
"Yeah, it definitely is. But, the only bad part about the Cup cars, with a sprint car you're closing that fast, but if you need change directions, you can do it. With a Cup car, you can't, you just hit somebody or you spin it out. They're big and heavy and they don't want to stop or change directions too fast, so that's the bad part about them, and what makes it so exciting over there, I guess."
IN YOUR TRANSITION TO WINSTON CUP, WHAT WERE THE EASIEST TRACKS FOR YOU TO ADAPT TO, AND WHAT WERE THE MOST DIFFICULT?
"Probably the easier ones were the Atlanta, Texas, Michigan - that type of big, fast, places where there's lot of room to race in. And I really don't know why. I probably had a harder time with the Martinsville, Bristol, short, short tracks. I don't really know why, but that's the way it seemed to play out."
SOME SAY CONTACT AT BRISTOL IS OKAY AND OTHERS SAY THERE SHOULDN'T BE ANY CONTACT TO PASS. WHAT'S YOUR STRATEGY?
"You gotta stay pretty clean. You can't knock the fenders off the car, which is so easy to do over there. It does hurt you a little bit. So, you can't get real aggressive early in the race when you've got hundreds and hundreds of laps to go. There's no sense taking a chance of wrecking it yourself, and there's no sense taking somebody else just to get buy 'em with that many laps to go, and more than likely, he's just going to come back and get you later, so you gotta use your head to be able to finish that race up front."
WITH A THIRD OF THE SEASON REMAINING, DO DRIVERS NOT IN THE TOP FIVE OR 10 HAVE A BIT OF ADVANTAGE BECAUSE THOSE DRIVERS BECOME LESS AGGRESSIVE (BECAUSE OF THE POINTS RACE)?
"I don't know. I'm sure there's something to it. The top five, six guys aren't going to take quite the chances they might, they might not gamble, but in the end it doesn't come out to much as far as to the amount they're going to lay back, it's going to be minimal, but you never know. We're certainly not going to be that way, and we'll take chances, not only on the track, but with set-ups that it might be great, it might be bad, but we'll try it. We don't have a whole lot to lose. So, that might be an advantage."
IN GENERAL, HOW DO ANALYZE HOW THINGS HAVE GONE THIS SEASON, AND WHO DO YOU SEE AS THE FRONT-RUNNER?
"As far as our season, it's been up and down, like I say, good days and bad. If we can just gather some consistency I think we'll help ourselves a ton. Right now, I think Tony Stewart's the favorite for the title, being less than 100 out. I'd say it's in his hands."
JUST FOLLOWING UP ON YOUR EXPRESSION "CLIMBING THE LADDER." IN YOUR TRANSITION TO WINSTON CUP RACING, HAVE YOU FELT ANY COMPLETION - OR, PERHAPS, THAT SENSE OF COMPLETION WHEN ONE DAY YOU'RE IN THE WINNER'S CIRCLE?
"I don't know if I feel that sense. I probably don't. I probably feel like I'm not going to back to dirt-track racing, I'm going to be here until the end of my career. So, in that way, yeah, I feel like I've completed it. But, man, I'm still learning tons of things every day and expect to get better until the day I quit. So, hopefully, it won't be complete in that sense."
HAS THE CUP SERIES BEEN AS COMPETITIVE AS YOU THOUGHT IT WOULD BE, AND HAS THE TRANSITION BEEN AS SMOOTH YOU WERE HOPING FOR?
"It's been pretty much everything I thought it was. I knew the competition was going to be harder than anything I ever experienced, and it has been. There's just so many good race teams, especially good drivers. Every driver in Winston Cup has been successful in some other form of racing to get to where they're at, and they're all good, they're all good enough to get the job done and win races. It's just been really, really hard and I knew that coming in."
HAVE YOU ACCOMPLISHED, SO FAR, WHAT YOU'VE ESTABLISHED AS GOALS?
"No, I haven't accomplished anything. I feel like I'm just getting to the point where I can start getting some things done. This is my third year in Winston Cup, and things have come slower than I had hoped. But, that's usually the case. But I do feel like I'm on the verge of being able to run in the top 10 most days, and you can go from there."
AS MORE AND MORE LARGE SPEEDWAYS ARE ADDED AND SOME OF THE SMALLER TRACKS ARE PHASED OUT, COULD YOU TALK TO THE SENTIMENTAL LOSS AND THE LOSS, MAYBE, OF THE TRADITIONAL FAN BASE?
"Luckily, I don't have to make decisions like that, on who gets to keep the races and who gets new ones. It's tough. I'm sure that's a very tough thing NASCAR's had to look at. And, I'm sure with them it's coming to a point where is the thing a little bit saturated in the Southeast with so many races? And, can they spread it out and get it a little more nationwide? I'm sure that's what they're looking at. But, on the other hand, how do you take away a race from a place like Darlington, that's been there forever and is just an awesome place to race at? I don't know. Like I said, good thing I'm not having to make that decision."
RYAN PEMBERTON, Crew Chief-77-Jasper Engines & Transmissions
YOU'VE BEEN A CREW CHIEF FOR FIVE YEARS NOW, AND HAVE WORKED WITH A HOST OF DRIVERS. WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO LEARN FROM ALL OF THOSE DRIVERS THAT YOU CAN APPLY TO THIS WEEKEND'S RACE?
"You try to apply everything going into a weekend at Bristol. All the drivers that have I have had the opportunity to work with before, we've all learned a lot over the course of the years at Bristol. Patience being the key. I worked with Ernie [Irvan] and a few other drivers that have been real aggressive and sometimes it doesn't pay off at a place like Bristol. So, hopefully, we have a good enough car where we can be patient and have a successful Bristol, which sometimes it's almost impossible to do up there."
HOW IT WORKING WITH DAVE BLANEY AS COMPARED TO ERNIE IRVAN?
"Very, very similar. Both of them, they like to go fast, they like high-speed race tracks, and they like to be on the edge, a nice, free-turning car, and I think that their aggressiveness is about equal."
FOR A CREW CHIEF, WHAT IS THE KEY TO BRISTOL?
"It's all chassis, it's all handling, it's all mechanical grip. That's why you can see guys without their front-ends on in the past running so well. I think everybody remembers [Dale] Earnhardt a few years back didn't have a nose on the car, and was unlapping himself and was the fastest car on the race track. So, you can kind of throw out the downforce issue. That doesn't mean you can knock your fenders off - you'll take the downforce - but you know it's not the primary ingredient in running fast. So, you definitely gotta keep your fenders on the car, you gotta keep all the wheels pointed in the right direction, and track position these days. It's not like it used to be when the field was a little smaller. I think we used to start about 37 cars there, if I'm not mistaken, and now, with all the great race teams, a 43-car field, as good as all the race teams are, people not having a lot of mechanical failures, there's liable to be 40 cars running at the end of the race, and 35 of them on the lead lap. So, track position and mechanical grip are what it's all about."
WHAT WAS LEARNED FROM THE SPRING RACE, HAVING TWO PIT ROADS? IT LOOKED LIKE THE BACKSTRETCH WASN'T NECESSARILY A BAD THING.
"Yeah. It kind of goes back and forth there. It's a tough place. You call things different, relative to where you are on the race track and where everybody else is, where you are lined up, whether you pit, don't pit. If you're towards the tail end of the field and you need to get tires, it's real difficult to get tires, to get four tires, and not get lapped there because the pace car, when they're all strung out, the pace car is not too far behind the last car. So, it makes things difficult. You gotta really be on your toes, the pit crew's really gotta be on top of things, and if you have a bobble or a problem on the right-side tires, you might have to elect to get two and not four. It's just a whole different animal at Bristol."
IS BRISTOL THE KIND OF RACE TRACK THAT YOU HAVE YOUR SHEET-METAL GUYS READY ON MONDAY BECAUSE YOU KNOW YOU'RE GOING TO PRETTY MUCH HAVE TO COVER ALL FOUR CORNERS?
"Yeah. We always say whatever car we're taking to Bristol, we always say we're donating that one to Bristol. We haven't had too much luck over the last couple of years of bringing back a car. We had a couple last year totaled out with Robert [Pressley]. One was a big ball of fire, I think a lot of people remember that one, and getting out of the car with it smoking. It just seems like that's one of those places where you can really destroy a car. And you know you're going to get some rubs on it. But, in general, I think that over the last couple of years you see guys actually get better coming out of the race a lot cleaner. And I think that the guy that wins the race and the guys that run up front, they'll have clean race cars, and there's something to said for that."
WHY IS THAT? ARE THE DRIVERS GETTING USED TO THE TRACK? IS IT THE MECHANICAL GRIP YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT? OR IS IT A DIFFERENT MINDSET?
"I think that the teams are so good, the mechanical grip's good, everyone's getting real in tune with what they have to do. If you rub wheels, pop the walls, knock the toe out or anything, you're not going to have a successful day there. So, I think everybody's real conscious to make sure their cars are clean. It's 500 laps. It's a tough race. And any one little thing early in the race makes for a long day."
AT BRISTOL, IT'S A LONG DAY TO BEGIN WITH. HOW DO YOU PREPARE YOUR TEAM FOR THAT?
"You can't really prepare them. They just have to soak it up. It's definitely a tough day. For those of you who have been to Bristol before, it's surrounded by grandstands, it is hot as hot as can be in there, hot and steamy, but the air quality is not good in there, and it's just a tough one. It's tough on all the drivers. It's definitely tough on all the crew members, and definitely makes for a long day."
HOW IS THE TEAM'S ROUTINE AFFECTED WHEN YOU'RE IN THE MIDWEST, AS YOU WERE FOR MICHIGAN LAST WEEK, AND YOU HAVE A SHORT WEEK, RACING AT BRISTOL ON SATURDAY NIGHT? IT'S LIKE THE NFL WHEN A TEAM PLAYS ON A MONDAY NIGHT AND THEN IN ON THE ROAD THE FOLLOWING SUNDAY. HOW MUCH OF A CHALLENGE IS THAT?
"Actually, this is about as easy as it gets. The hauler's back first thing on Monday morning, and we really don't have to leave any earlier than Thursday evening for Bristol. So, actually, this probably one of our better weeks because Bristol is not too far from home here. The other tracks get to be difficult. When you start going out west to Kansas and Chicago, places like that, and you have to go back to another venue, that takes you an extra day of travelling, those are the short weeks, when you'll have two days here in the shop with all your people and all your equipment to get things turned around. So, actually, this probably a light week for us."
SO THE CONTRAST IN THE GEOMETRY OF THE TRACKS DOESN'T ADD TO THE BURDEN?
"We've been preparing for Bristol for two weeks. We try to stay one or two weeks out. We kind of know what to expect, how to build the cars for Bristol. Definitely a totally different race track - you got a lot of wheel travel, you got a lot of movement in the car. So, you have special cars. Not a lot different, but a little different here and there, and we've dedicated those cars for Bristol weeks ago."
IN TERMS OF TRAVELLING TO THE WEST COAST, WOULD IT BE NICE TO PUT A COUPLE OF EVENTS TOGETHER, IF THAT WOULD HELP OUT WITH THE AMOUNT OF TRAVEL AND WEAR AND TEAR THAT YOU GO THROUGH?
"I definitely think we could probably do a couple of races out there consecutive. It would have to be a road course maybe with an oval, I think, to where you just bring out two extra cars, you go from one venue to the other. Run the road course, and then maybe run the oval somewhere. I think that would be great if you could make that happen. You probably don't want two races in the same area two weeks in a row, because fans, you want to spread them out a little bit."