WARD BURTON (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: Burton is the defending champion of the Mountain Dew Southern 500. He also won the 2000 spring race at the 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval. The 2002 Daytona 500 winner, Burton also won this ...
WARD BURTON (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Burton is the defending champion of the Mountain Dew Southern 500. He also won the 2000 spring race at the 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval. The 2002 Daytona 500 winner, Burton also won this season at New Hampshire in the Bill Davis Racing Dodge. He holds the qualifying record of 173.797 mph at Darlington set March 22, 1996. Burton finished 37th Saturday night at Bristol and ranks 27th in the NASCAR Winston Cup Standings with 12 races remaining on the 2002 schedule.
"I don't know how good I am at Darlington. I've been lucky to have good race cars there. We've been able to capitalize on two of the events, but there's been at least three others where I felt like we had the car to win the race. We've kind of got to avenge ourselves a little bit from the spring race. We got caught in a wreck when the 20 car got into the 44. We were running fifth then. We had just got the car pretty good. We were as good as anybody on the long runs. The first 20-25 laps, we'd get out-sprinted a little bit. We're going there with the same car, and we're going to work really hard to get it turning right so we can hopefully be a threat.
"There's always a lot of sand blowing around at Rockingham and Darlington. The asphalt doesn't stay like regular asphalt for very long. It gets real rocky. A lot of the blacktop between the rocks starts disappearing and that creates a very course condition that the tires wear on. There's no tire you can build that's not going to wear under those conditions. The new tire they've come out with makes it even tougher because the damn thing doesn't want to turn with the way the tire construction is. That's a challenge we have at every track. The reason Darlington is so much more challenging is because we run six inches away from the wall in both corners. You can overshoot a little bit and that's when you get in the wall. Everybody in this garage has had that Darlington stripe, and they're going to have another one before it's over with. Actually both races we won there we had a stripe on both sides of the car. It's all right to get a little stripe. It's not all right to get a big one. Most of the grip is close to the wall, so you're going to nip it a little bit every now and then with the right rear quarter.
"I think you've got to like Darlington. There is a place where I know, and I might not get there and be able to run there in the first 300 miles, and it's hard to sit there and visually see, but when I get in that groove and get my car where it's working, my line changes. Even if it's only a couple of feet in each corner, that couple of feet adds to a lot of mph to me, but I've got to have a car to allow me to do that. I can't go into detail what it is, and it would be hard for me to explain it. I know I'm in the zone when I'm there, and it definitely makes a difference. You gain a ton of time in both corners. You gain a ton of time coming off turn two and you gain a ton of time from the middle of three to the exit of four when I can get my car to do what I need it to do there.
"We haven't varied a whole lot on the setup from race to race. We've varied a little bit. Actually in the 500 last year, I was trying too hard for the pole and we hit the wall and had to rebuild the whole car. We didn't get that car right until the last 75 laps, and it was going that way again last spring. We didn't qualify well and we got in the top 10 and then in the top five and then we got in a wreck. We were just starting to make the kind of adjustments that the car was starting to come around to us.
"It's pretty simple. It's the same as everywhere else. You've got to give and take. You've got to work hard to be there at the end of the race. You run laps and learn. You race the race track and not the competitors and you don't get too involved with a one-lap battle because you've got a 500-mile battle.
"If you've got 20 laps on your tires and somebody behind you doesn't at Darlington, he's got you beat. I don't think there's any way around that. At the same time, a lot of that kind of philosophy is out the window this year. Our car at New Hampshire was better on 60-lap tires than it was on new tires. At Darlington, the way the tires wear out, if a guy is pretty good and he's got four new tires on, it would probably be physically impossible to beat him unless the lapped cars or something got in the way.
"I got pushed high one time in three and four at New Hampshire last time. They had just blown the track and luckily we were able to miss the wall. I know they've been trying to do some things to the New Hampshire track, but to me, the track has always been like that. I think it's been like that since day one. For a short track race, we hit a ton up there. The tragedy that has happened there proves it. I don't think there's any question. I'm not going to sit here and try to bash the race track. I think the Bahres are great people, but they need to work on some areas up there. They've been talking about it for years. We just increased the groove to the apron last time with the new paving. Taking that sealer off like they're doing right now as I understand it, I don't see where that's the answer at all. A lot of people are smarter than I am about that stuff, but no banking and a flat one-mile race track, it's pretty much a dragstrip and then you stop in the middle of the corner. That's the problem.
"We're either battling for the win or we're trying to stay on the lead lap this season. There's no in between. I have not been able to give the proper input about the cars on some of the bigger racetracks. The team has not been able to have a baseline as to where to start at, and that gets us too far off. Short tracks, we can see what we need to do and a lot of times make good adjustments. Tommy Baldwin (crew chief) and I and all the engineers and the chassis guys and the motors guys, it's every one of them. Tommy and I have got to figure out how to get back to a baseline. If we're a 20th-place car, then we need to be a 20th-place car and not turn into a 40th-place car. I think in some areas we need some help to figure it out.
"We've tried a lot of stuff from week to week. A lot of stuff has worked and a lot of stuff hasn't worked. I think we've been pitiful at some places and we've gotten off the baseline. It used to be we could be horrible the first of the race and make adjustments and come back and run in the top five and have a shot at winning. Very rarely can we do that now. I don't have any answers to it right now.
"We just need to find some consistency somewhere. In '99 we were the most consistent we've ever been and we've steadily gone down consistently since then. We know how to win now. We've just got to get back to running consistent now."
BILL DAVIS (Car owner Bill Davis Racing Dodge Intrepid R/Ts)
"Ward has always been good at Darlington. When he first went down there in a Busch car he ran great. I think that's the first place I ever noticed him. I think he goes into Darlington, and instead of being intimidated by it and dreading it, like some people approach road racing, I think Ward goes in there and like 'man this is a tough place and all my heros ran well here. It takes a really great driver to master this place and not be intimidated by it.' I think he's always accepted it as a challenge, and I know Darlington is one place that John Burton, his daddy, always took the boys when they were real young. On Labor Day and maybe the spring race, too, they went to the race. Ward tells stories about camping out there.
He tells the story about camping out down there a lot. I don't know how old Ward was, but they go camp out. They've got a motor home and John says they ought to build a camp fire. He told the boys to go get some wood. Well, old boy scout Ward is ready. He gets his ax and goes out there and finds some pine trees down one of the roads near the track. He goes out there and chops one down. He drags it back to the motorhome and starts chopping it up and splitting it. John asked him where he got it. I don't think they ever got in trouble for it, but they know about it now.
"I expect to have a car capable of winning the race when Ward Burton is driving at Darlington. I think any time we've ever gone there with Ward we've been in position to win the race. We ran at Bristol with Ward first and ran good all night. With about 100 laps to go there was a big wreck and we ran over somebody's bumper. It poked a hole in the oil cooler and ended our night. We went to Darlington the next week and ran in the top five all day. I think we finished fifth in our second race together. I can't remember us ever going to Darlington and running terrible. I think we've always gone and run well.
"I don't know how you can go week to week and be so radically different and so inconsistent. That's one thing we'd kinda got hold of the past few years. That's why we've finished in the top 10 in points. Mechanical deals have been the craziest things because we've never had problems there. It hasn't been car preparation. Stuff hasn't fallen off the car. We've just had goofy stuff break. We're keep breaking drive shafts, crank shafts and transmissions. We were driving off at Richmond in great shape, certainly with a car that could have been in position to win the race. Then we broke a drive shaft. It's been a pretty goofy deal, and I don't have an explanation. I wish I did. I wish there was an easy fix for it. I think we're addressing it and trying to figure it out the best we can.
"I think the Dodge is a great piece. We've certainly got better cars than we've ever had before. We understand them better and know more about them, so I don't think Dodge has anything to do with our problems. This was the year we thought we were going to break out and really do something better. We certainly got off to an unbelievable start, and then when it didn't go like we thought, I think it was that much harder on us confidence wise, everybody playing on the same team and pulling in the same direction. I think the trouble we had in the first three or four races really hit us hard. It's not enough to win a race. That won't turn things around. I wish it would.
"If you look around this garage, it's terrible, but we're not alone. Bobby Labonte is one of the best racers in here with one of the best racing teams. They're just partially better than we are. Childress' deal is not where it's always been. It's an unusual year. Look at all the trailers up there that haven't even been here in the past and they're up front now.
"For us it's not about winning races. We've won two and that's been amazing we've been able to do that. I think if we just get back on track and knock off some top 10s and top fives, that's what we're looking for.
"We're set for next year. Stay tuned for Tuesday night. We're going to have two Cup teams and a Busch team next year. Scott Wimmer is going to run Busch again. They're so close to winning races. He needs to win races and run for that championship. He's done a pretty good job this year, but another year in Busch won't hurt him. We'll do that and a year from now we'll evaluate things and see where we are. We've got to get our two Cup teams where they need to be before we add a third one."