Blaney Makes Another Unplanned "Back-To-Front" Charge, Then Loses Late-Race Gas Gamble On Top-Ten Finish At Pocono HIGH POINT, N.C. -- Dave Blaney is earning his NASCAR Winston Cup Series "battle-pay" the hard way. His epic struggle in the ...
Blaney Makes Another Unplanned "Back-To-Front" Charge, Then Loses Late-Race Gas Gamble On Top-Ten Finish At Pocono
HIGH POINT, N.C. -- Dave Blaney is earning his NASCAR Winston Cup Series "battle-pay" the hard way. His epic struggle in the Pennsylvania 500 -- something resembling storyboards from a Greek tragedy -- only further contributed to his sophomore-year frustrations, closing an endless afternoon with a 22nd-place finish that did nothing to reflect the sterling nature of his performance.
Blaney passed 39 cars during the 200-lap event, moving the #93 Amoco/Siemens Dodge into the top-ten both early and late, before gambling on extended gas mileage over the race's final stages. He ran out of gas while running eighth on the final lap, pitting for a splash of gas to complete the race after producing a monumental effort to get back into contention.
After posting a respectable 15th-place qualifying effort for the second WC race in a month at Pocono, Blaney registered fast lap-times in the final practice session for the 500-mile race, appearing to be a top-five contender behind pole-sitter Ricky Rudd and fellow points-contender Jeff Gordon.
True to that form, Blaney's day started just that way, moving forward nine positions (into sixth-place) in the first 18 laps of the 200-lap event before reporting what he believed to be a fatal engine problem on Lap 20. Dropping 32 positions to the rear of the field, Blaney limped at the back of the field one lap-down to the leaders for 50 laps until -- during a caution-flag pit-stop -- his crew went under the hood and found a spark-plug wire which had vibrated loose.
On the ensuing restart, Blaney's lap-times returned to top-five speeds as he quickly raced past the lap-down cars and back into position to get back on the lead-lap with help from a well-timed caution flag. For 100 laps, Blaney ran lap times comparable to race-leaders Gordon and Rudd until a multi-car accident on Lap 149 gave him his chance to regain lead-lap status.
Unfortunately, the accident collected Bill Davis racing teammate Ward Burton, in the midst of a brilliant effort himself into the top-five (from 34th at the start) as well as WC points leader Dale Jarrett. After a quick caution followed the Lap 156 restart, Blaney pitted for gas only while in 14th-place on Lap 159, leaving the #93 Amoco/Siemens Dodge two laps short of the required gas mileage distance and necessitating some divine intervention to complete the race.
With Gordon mired deep in the pack following the stops and Dale Earnhardt, Jr and Bobby Labonte left at the point to battle for the win, Blaney's gas-mileage dilemna benefitted from a three-lap caution period on Lap 171 and he moved quickly past many of the day-long contenders (including Rudd) and into eighth-place with 11 laps remaining. As he trailed Mark Martin into Turn 2 coming to the white-flag, Blaney reported his engine was sputtering, forcing his last-lap stop and ruining a tenacious effort by the #93 Amoco/Siemens team.
The crushing late-race disappointment at Pocono -- combined with points lost after a late-race skirmish with Tony Stewart and a blown tire early in the race at New Hampshire -- have cost Blaney more than 150 points in July in his quest to enter the top-20 in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series point standings. He remains 26th in points, 16 points behind 23rd-place Jeremy Mayfield and 184 behind 20th-place Robert Pressley, who trails BDR teammate Burton (in 19th) by only 20 points.
In a late-race surge, Labonte passed Earnhardt, Jr. with less than seven miles remaining to win his first race of the season. Tony Stewart, Bill Elliott (the top-finishing Dodge) and Johnny Benson rounded out the top five. "We ran this car here last time (11-place finish in June), and it's been a good one everywhere we've been with it," said Blaney. "This is an older car, but it's got about the best body on it that we own. It's got a lot of downforce and it's balanced well. It's a friendly, forgiving car. They try to duplicate the car when they build new ones in the shop. They do everything they can, but they take 'em to the wind tunnel and there's big differences.
"We dug ourselves a pretty big hole today but we obviously had a great car or we wouldn't have been able to go all the way to the back and then get back into the top-ten. We knew it would be close at the end and there may have been another route to go but we gambled and it didn't work out. We needed a little less than a gallon to get to the end, it sputtered and I had to come in. Those 14 positions we lost (8th to 22nd) were the difference in our going to Indianapolis this week in 23rd or being in 26th-place. It really hurt. But overall, we were fast at the start and really fast at the end, once we got back on the lead-lap. We're gaining on it every week. "No doubt, we're better now than we were when the season started. (Crew Chief) Doug (Randolph) and I are working a lot better together. I think we're gaining on knowing what to do with the cars, the new bodies and new engines. A lot of times it isn't showing up, but we're having our good days. Today could have been a really good day. Unfortunately, we're having bad days along with it. We'll eventually get those bad days slimmed down, and we'll be in good shape. "You've got to get over the bad days and take what you learn and go on. We weren't very good last week at the beginning of the race at New Hampshire and almost got a lap down from the start. A caution saved us. The run we crashed on, we were as fast as the leaders. We learned something about the car and what to do with it. We'll use that next time. It gets everybody down. It keeps knocking you back in the points. You have a couple of good runs and then it knocks you back, but that's the way it goes.
"We'll use what we learned this weekend at Pocono next weekend at Indy, which asks for a lot of the same things from the driver and the car as Pocono does. We had a good test there last week and the rules change -- when we get some track time with it -- should help us as well."
On Friday, NASCAR announced that Dodge teams would be allowed an additional two inches forward extension on their front-air-dam area, beginning with this weekend's Brickyard 400, although all the Dodge teams tested at the storied track over the past two weeks without the benefit of the aerodynamic change.
"The rule change for Indy will just change the balance of the car," said Blaney. "We'll keep working with it. It'll give us more downforce on the front and in theory you'll be able to hook the back end of the car up harder and have a better hooked up race car. The more aero, downforce you can have, the better you are. It should help us when we learn how to use it. I don't know how much it'll affect what we learned at our Indy test. We'll go back knowing what the car should act like with the nose and go from there.
"I'm hoping for a good week at Indy and some better progress in the points going back to the road course at Watkins Glen in two weeks. We really want to get into the top-20 by Labor Day and we can do it, despite all we've been through lately."