**BLANEY ON THE FIRST HALF OF THE 2003 NASCAR WINSTON CUP SEASON-- "We probably had the kind of first half one would expect from a team with a first-year Winston Cup Crew Chief, a brand-new head of fabrication, and a lot of changes to make to its...
**BLANEY ON THE FIRST HALF OF THE 2003 NASCAR WINSTON CUP SEASON-- "We probably had the kind of first half one would expect from a team with a first-year Winston Cup Crew Chief, a brand-new head of fabrication, and a lot of changes to make to its race cars and its approach to racing. But we're not at all where WE think we should be, especially after we had such a strong start with a pole in the second race (Rockingham) and the good runs early at tough places like Darlington (a close third behind bashing front-runners Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch). We struggled at a lot of places in the late spring as we've worked through just what we need with the new cars we're building from the ground-up in our shop with (new Fabrication Shop Foreman) Pat Marshall.
"Like with many situations where the crew chief is brand new to the Winston Cup garage, Bootie (Barker) has given us some great moments and also felt the growing pains that a guy will feel just coming into this level for the first time. We're all learning together, and we hope we can show a whole lot of progress when we go back to some of the places for a second time in the second half of the schedule."
**BLANEY ON THE TEAM'S RESTRICTOR-PLATE FORTUNES IN 2003-- "We were really slow for no reason we could pinpoint when Speedweeks started down here in February but got going pretty good through all the rain-delays until an electrical problem kept popping up every time we'd stop and start for the rain. We just missed every major calamity there was here in February, then had The Big One with (Ryan) Newman at Talladega cleared until I got tapped from behind as I drove away from the mess.
"I'd like to think our weekend this year for the Pepsi 400 will be a little more like last July, when we stayed in the top-ten throughout the race (after starting 30th) until Newman spun in front of me late with ten miles to go and we both crashed. I'd like to start the second half off this year a little better than last, for sure."
* DAVE BLANEY and the #77 Jasper Engines & Transmissions Ford team enter the Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway ranked 23rd in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series team standings, 105 points behind 20th-place Joe Nemechek after his 32nd-place finish at Sonoma two weekends ago; BLANEY started 15th at Sonoma, and had moved into the top-10 by mid-race when he became one of victims of the Lap 65 multi-car melee begun by Kurt Busch's ill-fated three-wide inside pass in Turn 7, finishing one-lap down to race winner Robbie Gordon after limping to the pits for repairs.
* BLANEY's best career WC start at Daytona (seven races) is fourth (2000 Pepsi 400) and his best finish is 21st (2001 Pepsi 400); the best start for a Jasper-sponsored entry at Daytona (19 races) is eighth (Greg Sacks-1994 Pepsi 400) and the best Jasper finish at DIS is sixth (Sacks-1994 Daytona 500).
* For the Daytona 500 in February, BLANEY began Speedweeks 2003 slowly (44th of 51 in qualifying speed--49.541 secs.), but he and new Crew Chief Bootie Barker made great strides in practice with the #77 Jasper Ford in race trim, running competitively in their Twin 125 qualifier before stalling on pit row and finishing 21st. Joining the other Penske-Jasper-powered entries as the first three provisional starters (Ryan Newman-37th, Rusty Wallace-38th, BLANEY-39th), BLANEY showed great promise in the early stages of the rain-threatened 2003 Daytona 500, moving up 22 positions in the first quarter of the race. On Lap 47, however, BLANEY reported an electrical problem that would surface intermittently throughout the race and hamper progress further through the field during green-flag periods. BLANEY finished 24th, narrowly avoiding each of the event's three major accidents, including Newman's spectacular barrel-roll along the frontstretch on Lap 57.
* For the 2002 Pepsi 400, rain-plagued sessions limited pre-race practice to eight total laps in qualifying trim, but BLANEY enjoyed his best restrictor plate race in 11 career WC starts to date, sweeping through the field from his 30th-place starting position (49.584 secs.) into the top-ten by Lap 40 and remaining there for over two-thirds of the race. Running as high as fourth in the lead-draft, BLANEY raced at the front with eventual winner Michael Waltrip, defending race champion Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and points leader Sterling Marlin--all eventual top-six finishers--until being shuffled back to the high teens in the closing laps. With less than ten miles remaining, Ryan Newman spun in the path of the #77 Jasper Ford, sending both cars into the wall and ending their nights as the 27th and 28th-place finishers.
* In March, BLANEY posted a career-best third-place finish at Darlington, his third top-ten finish over a four-week stretch (10th at NCS after his first career pole position, eighth at Atlanta) following the season-opening Daytona 500.
* Entries powered by PENSKE-JASPER ENGINES have registered two wins and six pole positions in 16 races thus far in 2003, including Jeremy Mayfield's pole at Talladega (4/6); RUSTY WALLACE leads the trio of PJE-powered entries in the WC points, ranking eighth (1,940 points-1 top-5, 6 top-10s), while Penske teammate NEWMAN is 17th (1,736 points-four pole positions, wins at Texas and Dover, 5 top-5s, 7 top-10s); BLANEY is 23rd (1,534 points-one pole position, 1 top-5, 3 top-10s).
* The Pepsi 400 at Daytona will be the 17th race with the #77 Jasper Ford team for ROBERT "BOOTIE" BARKER, who joined the team in November; BARKER is a former chassis/shock specialist for the #24 Hendrick Motorsports team for four-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon (1999-2000) and for the #22 Bill Davis Racing team and driver Ward Burton (1998-99); BARKER rejoined BDR in fall, 2000 as crew chief for Scott Wimmer, then a recent graduate of the American Speed Association (ASA), and flourished in his first managerial role, guiding Wimmer to four NASCAR Busch Series victories in the final eight races of 2002 and finishes of 11th and third, respectively, in the standings (2001-02).
* The Pepsi 400 at Daytona will be BARKER's 21st Winston Cup start as a crew chief; in addition to a full-time Busch Series program in 2002, Barker also directed a limited NASCAR Winston Cup program at BDR for Wimmer, including starts at Bristol and Phoenix; in his first career WC start, BARKER guided Wimmer to a 22nd-place finish, leading nine laps in an unexpected debut at Atlanta (11/00) when his scheduled ARCA qualifying was rained out and Car Owner Davis opted for an attempt to make the WC field.
* The Pepsi 400 will also be BARKER's 22nd NASCAR start with BLANEY, who finished third at both Dover and Charlotte in fall, 2000 in BDR Busch entries (four races total) as well as BLANEY's final WC race for BDR (2001) at Atlanta (qualified a then-career-best third, led 16 laps before engine failure) with Barker.