The following is the complete text from Dave Blaney's pre-Brickyard 400 diaries, Blaney's first-day practice speed ranked 11th among the 54 cars attempting to qualify for Sunday's Brickyard 400. Bill Davis Racing teammate Ward Burton ranked ...
The following is the complete text from Dave Blaney's pre-Brickyard 400 diaries, Blaney's first-day practice speed ranked 11th among the 54 cars attempting to qualify for Sunday's Brickyard 400. Bill Davis Racing teammate Ward Burton ranked sixth.
"For almost everyone involved in any form of racing, the chance to compete at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway takes on an added importance whenever the date comes up on the schedule. For our #93 Amoco/Siemens team and the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, our seventh trip to the Brickyard is this weekend and it couldn't come at a more important time for our young team.
"We're just beginning to shows signs as a team that we can run at the front every week with the new Dodge Intrepid. After starting late in NASCAR after 15 years in sprint-cars, I'm finally getting comfortable in knowing what stock cars need to go faster every week. And we're in the market for a primary sponsor, now that Amoco has announced it will leave the sport after over a decade as a sponsor.
"With the obvious history that Indy has for any American motorsports fan, our being able to bring the stock-cars to one of the most famous racing venues in the world makes the Brickyard 400 immediately one of the most significant 2-3 dates on the Winston Cup schedule.
"For me -- having grown up in open-wheel country in Ohio -- the possibility always seemed more likely that, as I had more success in the USAC and World of Outlaws sprint-car ranks, racing in the Indianapolis 500 would be a more likely career destination than ending up where I am -- racing at Daytona, Charlotte, Talladega AND Indianapolis in stock cars.
"Before Bill Davis gave me the chance to make the move to NASCAR in 1998, most of the racing I had done was on dirt, although I had driven a half-dozen ARCA series races and some USAC Silver Crown Series events throughout the 1980's. (Note: Blaney was the youngest-ever Silver Crown champion at the time in 1984.) I did get a chance to test some Indy cars for several owners but it was clear as time passed that NASCAR was the place to be, even though no one I had raced with in the Outlaws was ever able to make the transition to NASCAR work.
"Because the time I've spent in NASCAR has been relatively short compared to a lot of the guys we race around every week, I seem to still be learning about these cars at a pretty consistent pace. The transition this year at Bill Davis Racing from Pontiacs to the Dodge Intrepid will be a huge benefit in the long-term but we've been inconsistent as a group so far in 2001.
"The switch may have affected me more because I was just getting used to what to expect from the one brand before switching to a new car that everybody -- our BDR crew chiefs Doug Randolph (#93) and Tommy Baldwin, Jr. (#22) -- needed to learn about all over again.
"I've believed from the start of this year that we would probably not see a big jump in performance from the Dodges as a group until we started going back to tracks for the second time in 2001. Daytona over the July 4 weekend was the first track we returned to and we were second with 15 miles to go before getting bounced around and out of the lead draft at the end. Still, we saw some progress with all 10 of the Dodges teams.
"Last week's race at Pocono was the first time we've gone back to a track where the superspeedway rules limit everyone to certain extent what the cars can show. Where the performances in last weekend's race come into play for the Brickyard 400 is that the demands are so similar in what the cars need -- big power, ability to turn in the long flat corners and a fair amount of aerodynamics for the long straights. So the guys that ran well last week -- Jeff Gordon, (pole-sitter) Ricky Rudd, Dale (Earnhardt) Jr., (race-winner) Bobby Labonte, Bill Elliott -- are obvious choices to run well at Indy.
"But despite our overall finishes (22nd for Blaney, 38th for Ward Burton), our Bill Davis Racing teams ran well at Pocono and also tested well over the past two weeks in separate sessions at the Brickyard. Ward ran right to the front after qualifying in the back (34th) and was a threat to win until his brother (Jeff) clipped him from behind with 50 laps to go.
"The emotions of our Amoco team could not have been more tested than they were last Sunday. We've had several races this year where we've been in position to win. We led 70 laps at Atlanta in March and looked like we had the car to beat but had a tire-problem after a pit-stop and didn't close the deal. We were in the top-three inside the final 15 miles at both Texas and Michigan so we've shown the kind of speed at times that it takes to win at this level, even with a young team.
"At Pocono, we were probably right there with the #24 (Gordon) and the #28 (Rudd) in the final practice so we knew we had a chance to have a great day on Sunday. We went straight to the top-five (from 15th-place starting position) but then I felt the power sag on Lap 20. All my pressures on the dash stayed up but we just lost horsepower. We limped around at the back of the lead-lap as car after car passed me. It looked a like an opportunity for a good finish had gone away early.
"As it turned out, we got a chance to pit around Lap 50, found that a spark-plug wire had vibrated loose and we got it reconnected. My times picked back up to where the leaders were but the long stop put us a lap down. We stayed there for almost 100 laps , hoping for a caution to give us a chance (on the restart) to get ahead of the leaders and back on the lead-lap. Unfortunately, we got the chance at Ward's expense. His wreck back in the pack gave us a chance to race again.
"When we pitted, we knew that we would be close on gas-mileage to the finish but we hoped that a combination of things -- caution-flag laps (at reduced speed) or divine intervention -- might give us the extra lap we needed to make it to the finish. After racing back into the top-ten (eighth-place) from where we'd dropped into the field early in the race (42nd), it looked like we were going to salvage the kind of finish our car should have gotten all along.
"BUT! The race ran green for all but three of the remaining laps and -- as my car went into the tunnel-turn (Turn 2) coming to the white flag, the engine sputtered. The trip down pit road to complete the final 2.5-miles cost us 14 positions as well as four spots in the Winston Cup point standings coming into Indy. Neverthless, we learned a great deal about what the car wants and -- again -- it was the first time we'd really taken the Dodge back to a track where we'd already raced this season and I think that showed with all the Dodges.
"The other factor that will play into this weekend's race for us is the rules change that NASCAR officials announced last Friday, which gave the Dodges an additional two-inch extension forward on the front air-dam. In one respect, since we've spent four days testing at Indy with the configuration we've had all year, we'll be going back on Friday with only two hours practice prior to qualifying to learn what the change really means to our cars.
"The rule change will change the balance of the car. We'll have to keep working with it as time goes on. 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 once 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 we had and go from there.
"Eventually, I hope it will make a big difference for our cars in an area where frankly we've been struggling a bit. We're talking about the same kick-out with the nose that the Chevrolets have, so I don't think there's anything too extreme with it. It's pretty obvious that's where the Dodges have been hurting. The fast high-banked tracks where downforce isn't quite as important, the Dodges seem to be running comparable with everybody else. The flat tracks where it really takes downforce -- like Pocono and Indianapolis -- the Dodges haven't been able to keep up. I think it's going to make us more competitive at those places.
"We've got an hour of practice at Indy on Friday and hour before qualifying runs on Saturday morning. When we tested at Indy, we worked mainly on qualifying set-ups. We went to the race set-ups on the second day after lunch and most of the afternoon was rained out. Before this rules change, we were planning on using the Friday practice to work on race-runs and then do qualifying runs on Saturday morning. We've changed our plans a bit now. It might help us a bit in qualifying but the real benefit will be in race conditions on flat tracks and old tires where everything gets slipping and sliding. That's when a better feel for the nose will pay off.
"For the past 10-15 years, NASCAR has been all about trying to make the competition more equal. That's what they've been all about. It's a constant process. Every year, we get a several rule changes across all the brands. This year, it's Dodge's turn. Ford got the rule change for the superspeedways -- the narrower spoilers and shorter roof spoiler -- so it's always been give-and-take. Everybody wants to give nothing and take it all. It doesn't matter which manufacturer you work with. If another brand is getting something, the rest will complain.
"Regardless of how the change for the Dodges works out, it's always exciting to be at Indianapolis. For me, it's also the weekend when the World of Outlaws run one of their "Month of Money" races -- "The Big One" at Eldora (OH) Speedway. The WoO team I own -- with my brother Dale driving -- won it a couple of years back and I'm always thinking I want to commute over to Ohio each night after we get done at the Brickyard. We'll see how it goes this week before I decide if that's a good idea.
"For me on the NASCAR side -- when I think about the Brickyard 400 -- I'll probably always think about the first time we made the race, which was 1999. I was still running full-time in the Busch Series and it was the third Winston Cup race we were attempting to make as a team that year while still running the Busch car.
"I had to go back and forth to Indianapolis Raceway Park (IRP), where Busch practice was going on. (BDR GM) Mike Brown was spotting for me and they were so close that his radio at IMS could pick up Busch practice at IRP. The tracks are close but the situations were miles apart. Race day made that even clearer to me.
"When you come out of Gasoline Alley and the entire front-stretch is filled from corner-to-corner with people, it's an awesome sight. We had qualified 20th. When they lined up for the national anthem, our Amoco team was 10 people short of what everyone else's teams had lined up on pit-road but we were in the show.
"It was the 50th stock-car race I had ever been in. Period. I was just beginning to figure out the stock cars where we were running at the front every week in the Busch Series. I was finally thinking I had made the right choice to make the move to NASCAR. And it was the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the place where every kid in this country dreams of someday racing.
"We've come a long way as a team in the two years since then. We'd like to be the first team to get a Winston Cup win for Dodge and this weekend would be an unbelievable time to get my first NASCAR win. Looking at who's won the Brickyard 400 in the six races we've had there -- Gordon, Rudd, Jarrett, Bobby Labonte, Dale Earnhardt, the odds would appear to be against a more inexperienced driver like me winning one of NASCAR's biggest races.
"But I've always liked those kinds of challenges. So many people said I would never be able to make the move to NASCAR from sprint cars and that probably made me even more determined to get this far. But both Bill Davis and our #93 team want a lot more than we delivered so far this year. We've run good but we've made mistakes that have cost us. Maybe this weekend will be the start of what we all hope will be a much different fall stretch for the BDR teams. The elements look like they're all in place. It's really up to us now."