WARD BURTON (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: Burton won last year's Mountain Dew Southern 500 at Darlington and finished 12th in last season's Carolina Dodge Dealers 400. In 16 career starts at the 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval, Burton...
WARD BURTON (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Burton won last year's Mountain Dew Southern 500 at Darlington and finished 12th in last season's Carolina Dodge Dealers 400. In 16 career starts at the 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval, Burton has two victories, four top fives and six top 10s. The 2002 Daytona 500 winner ranks third in the series standings, 80 points behind leader Sterling Marlin, driver of the No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T.
"Things have really picked up for us since winning at Darlington last year and the Daytona 500 this year. It's been exciting over the years to see more people wearing Caterpillar, Bill Davis and my stuff. It's been growing. Any time you win races, it definitely helps you out a lot, and it helps out our partners. We've got a lot of partners, and that makes you feel good to know it helps our sponsors and all the people who make the sport go for us. During practice, unless it's a child, autographs have to wait. I'm not going to walk by a child and not sign for him, but grownups have just got to understand. That's working time for us, and any other time I'll sign for them. I might have to keep walking because if you stop you'll never get to where you're going, but with the exception of children there's a time for it. We try to always do it, but sometimes you've got to be focused and you just can't do it. You're sitting there talking to your crew chief and people are wanting autographs. You try to look each one of them in the eye and sign their card or whatever and try to make it personal. The fans do move the sport.
"I don't know how we're going to be in the race Sunday. We've got to work hard in Happy Hour and see exactly what we've got. The 23 has the car we won with here last time, but our car is going to be good I think. So many things can happen here, and it's such a tricky track. You never know when you're going to be good for the whole race. Tommy (crew chief Baldwin) and the guys have been working hard all year to give me a good car, and we usually get the car right for Darlington. I really like this track, and it would be fun to win another race this soon in the season.
"Dodge has been having a good year so far, and it was good to see those trucks run 1-2 again yesterday. Dodge has put together a strong truck program, and they've been really good to us on the Cup side. We're just about where we need to be compared to the top teams now. We had a three-year deal with Caterpillar, and this is the third year of the three-year deal. Things have changed a lot out here in three years, but Caterpillar will be back next year and we'll have the sponsorship we need to contend with the best of the best.
"We're not far from that now. We still need to work on a few things, but Bill Davis has really been devoted to this sport and he gives us the freedom to do what we need to do with the cars. Dodge provides plenty of technical support, and I think we're really headed in the right direction. We've been pretty consistent, but we need to be more consistent if we're going to stay up front. I think we're capable of running up front every week. I think the 23 car is capable of running up front. We're working with them closely. I talk to Hut, and Tommy talks to Philippe (crew chief Lopez) and we've got access to the same equipment. We promised Hills Bros that we'd work with them, and it would benefit us as well as the 23 team if both cars were running good.
"I don't think I've seen that many surprises this season. I guess some people were surprised we won the Daytona 500, but we had a car capable of winning there last year. We led the most laps and everything was looking pretty good until we got wrecked.
"That's just racing luck. We had the same strategy last year that's working for us this year. We're just going to take 'em one at a time and concentrate on the track we're racing at that week. First of all, you've got to finish the race. Then if you finish, you can concentrate on where you finish. If we finish, then we usually count on finishing up front. We did the same thing last year, but everybody kept wrecking us. Hopefully, we've used up some of that bad luck. I hope we've used it all up.
"I really don't know what to expect here Sunday. You know you've got to take care of the tires and race the track. My brother Jeff is starting 14th, and that's like winning the pole for him. It might be time for me and him to start racing each other again. He was pretty good last week at Atlanta for awhile, but something distracted him. Jeff's team has tested at just about every track we went to so far. I think he's probably about out of tests.
"He really wanted to pick it up from last season, and I think he'll have a good year. Maybe he and I can race for a win pretty soon. He was faster than us in practice this morning. I'll ask him to share some of his secrets, but I know how far I'll get with that."
JIMMY SPENCER (No. 41 Target Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Spencer led the way for Dodge by qualifying seventh fastest for Sunday's Carolina Dodge Dealers 400.
"I think you work hard at just getting a good balance to your race car at Darlington. The big thing about Darlington is so many things can happen because you run so close to the wall. The track was designed for cars to run about 120. We're running about 170. That's a lot of it. It's like no other track I've ever seen before. I've never raced on a race track like this in my life. They couldn't duplicate it either.
"We were pretty good in practice. We're just trying to find the right balance. Starting up front here at Darlington is pretty neat. It's real hard to pass at this race track. It's real easy to burn up your tires. I'm glad we got a good qualifying run in. I think if we can find the right balance we'll be in good shape. Sterling has really been running good this year. His car has been balanced, and that's what we're hoping for with our shocks and spring combination.
"We're real close to Sterling's setup. We just need to start getting some more luck on our side and not make any more mistakes. We're hoping for a top 10 run Sunday. We might be better than that, but so many things come into play here that you've got to be happy with a top 10 run."
STERLING MARLIN (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Marlin will start 11th in Sunday's 43-car field. He was second fastest in Saturday's first practice session. Marlin is riding a streak of seven straight top 10 finishes, dating back to the final three races of 2001. He leads rookie Ryan Newman in the NASCAR Winston Cup Standings by 74 points entering Sunday's race.
"We're in pretty good shape. It's the same old Darlington. You slow down a good bit after 30 laps on the tires. I'd say you're a second slower after 30 laps. We're just trying to get the car balanced and run as fast as we can as long as we can. It's too early to talk about the points. We're just taking it a race at a time. Darlington and Bristol will shuffle the point standings. If we come out of these next two races in good shape, it'll really help, but if we don't, there's still a lot of racing left. We tried to test at Bristol, but we went up there and it rained both days. We're just going to take it a race at a time and see what happens."