Darlington II: Ward Burton looks to tame the track

Ward Burton looking to tame Darlington, bouts of inconsistency as NASCAR Winston Cup Series prepares for Mountain Dew Southern 500. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 28, 2002) - Ward Burton's two victories this NASCAR Winston Cup Series season seem to...

Ward Burton looking to tame Darlington, bouts of inconsistency as NASCAR Winston Cup Series prepares for Mountain Dew Southern 500.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 28, 2002) - Ward Burton's two victories this NASCAR Winston Cup Series season seem to underscore his highlights as well as his struggles.

Burton (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge) opened the season with the most prized victory of his career - the Daytona 500 - and his triumph at New Hampshire in July allowed him to secure the first multiple-win season of his nine-year career. He also is one of just seven multiple victors on the season.

It would appear that Burton would be in the midst of a career-best season, but unfortunately that has not been the case. Of those seven multiple winners, he is the only one not among the top 10 in the NASCAR Winston Cup championship.

He is mired in 27th, as long bouts of inconsistency between those wins have been paramount to those struggles.

"We're either battling for the win or we're trying to stay on the lead lap this season. There's no in-between," said Burton, who finished a career-best ninth in the 1999 championship."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."

Even team owner Bill Davis is puzzled by the inconsistent nature of a team that has finished among the top 16 in the NASCAR Winston Cup championship the past four years.

"I don't know how you can go week to week and be so radically different and so inconsistent," said Davis, who has employed Burton as his driver since the tail end of the 1995 season."That's one thing we kind of got hold of in the past few years; that's why we've finished in the top 10 in points (1999). It hasn't been car preparation. Stuff hasn't fallen off the car. We've just had goofy stuff break - drive shafts, crankshafts and transmissions. I wish there was an easy fix for it."

Darlington Raceway could serve as the perfect cure for reversing Burton's fortunes as the NASCAR Winston Cup Series heads to the historic 1.366-mile oval for Sunday's Mountain Dew Southern 500.

Burton not only is the defending Mountain Dew Southern 500 champion, but he has enjoyed a good deal of success at Darlington in recent years. Two of his five career wins have come there - the other came in the spring of 2000 - and he has five top-eight finishes and 305 laps led in his last seven starts at this venue. He also owns a track qualifying-record pole position (1996) and nine top-10 starts in 17 career appearances, including six in the top three.

"I don't know how good I am at Darlington. I've been lucky to have good race cars," said Burton, who won from 37th on the grid last season after the team had to rebuild the car due to an accident during qualifying."I know I am 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 2 and you gain a ton of time from the middle of (Turn) 3 to the exit of (Turn) 4 when I can get my car to do what I need it to do there."

Davis recalled first noticing Burton at Darlington during his NASCAR Busch Series days and coming away quite impressed with his attitude at a track that can humble the best.

Davis:"I think he goes into Darlington and instead of being intimidated by it or dreading it - like some people approach road racing - Ward goes in there and is like,' Man, this is a tough place and all my heroes ran well here. It takes a really great driver to master this place and not be intimidated by it.'"

Burton admits that he and the team are still searching for answers, in particular strong initial set-up baselines heading into race weekends.

"We've tried a lot of stuff from week to week; a lot of stuff has worked and a lot hasn't worked," he said." Tommy (Baldwin, crew chief) and I have got to figure out how to get back to that baseline. If we're a 20th-place car, then we need to be a 20th-place car and not turn it into a 40th-place car. I think in some areas we need some help to figure it out. ... I don't have any answers right now."

-nascar-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Ward Burton