WARD BURTON (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: After winning his first Daytona 500 in February, Burton and company have had only one other top 10 finish and rank 25th in the NASCAR Winston Cup Standings. Burton and crew chief Tommy ...
WARD BURTON (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: After winning his first Daytona 500 in February, Burton and company have had only one other top 10 finish and rank 25th in the NASCAR Winston Cup Standings. Burton and crew chief Tommy Baldwin discuss their post-Daytona 500 season and the outlook for the 20-race consecutive stretch that begins on July 6 with the Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
"It was a very emotional time for everyone. Some really good things had happened over the years and some not so good things have happened in my racing career and with the race team. To put a cap on all of it, and something that will really make you look back and reflect, winning the Daytona 500 is something that will always be a fond memory and as time passes, the fonder the memory will get. Because of the history of the track and being the granddaddy of stock car racing, it was obviously a very special moment for all of us. Everything that has happened to our race team since then has definitely not been positive. We've just had a lot of problems mechanically, getting the cars to handle, you name it and we've had it happen to us. If we can get to Daytona and stay out of trouble, hopefully we can start the season over again.
"You've seen statistics where people win the Daytona 500 and have had problems. Others, like the 24 car, won the race and went on to win the championship. It has no bearing at all on the rest of the season. For whatever reason, we just got behind on the setups, and we've had a lot of mechanical problems.
"You've got to approach every race the same. You've got to be at the end of the race to see if you've got a shot at it. We've been lucky this year in one aspect. We missed two big wrecks at Daytona. We missed one big wreck at Talladega. We were right in the middle of it both times. We had a little bit of skill and a whole lot of luck. That's just the way it is. We're going to need some of the same when we go to Daytona. You've got to be there at the end of the race. The last race at Daytona we had a late caution with a few laps to go. We got bottlenecked up in the middle of the pack and had one hole. We were able to go low and came back and were able to win. Had that one hole not opened up at that split moment, we would have probably been 24th. Restrictor-plate racing is one we'd all like to find something better to do about it and have a better atmosphere. Of course, nobody has come up with it. On our vehicle, our best car is sitting in Daytona USA. Our Talladega Dodge, we've got to work on the cowl pressure. When we were side by side with other cars at Talladega, we stalled it and never could get it back. We've got to get some work done on it so it'll run with other cars. We're going to be with other cars all night.
"I think the night race at Daytona is pretty neat. I wish we raced every Saturday night everywhere. I think with this schedule we need a day off. I think running on Saturday is great. If we're going to race and test 45 weeks a year, why not run some more Saturday races. You could run on Saturday or even on Fridays and still pack the house.
"We should know something real soon (about next season). It's basically in Bill's (Davis') hands right now. I've agreed to everything we'd already negotiated on. Some of what created this was all the other times these situations were done between Cat, myself and Bill, it was all known where we were going and how we were going to do it. Cat signed a deal with Bill. I found out about it and all the details about it later, some of the details I still don't know. So that kind of mushroomed this because I didn't hasten into a decision as fast as everybody would have liked. With what has happened, we've been able to win some races, and we've been able to make a solid program for Caterpillar, but at the same time our performance has been absolutely horrible. That's something all parties have got to look at and decide if we can make this work here or not. That's some of the discussion we've had the past couple of weeks. I wanted to make sure that they feel comfortable that they are going to be able to make it work. I think it can work, but some things are going to be addressed and some things we all are going to have to work on, including myself.
"We've got great chemistry. We've got great people, not that we don't need some more, not that we don't need more support group. Right now, we're in a slump and we've all lost confidence in each other and it's just because of how long we've been going through this ride we've been going through. At the same time, I know that at any given moment, it wasn't but a month ago that we set a track record and should have won the race. I know at any given moment I could be sitting in the car capable of doing it. The problem is we're just inconsistent. Last year's notes may as well be thrown away because they don't mean diddly. At Richmond, we had the best race car and we break like we have every other week and then the next week we have to take a provisional. We just seem like we have to take that rocky path. Our motor program has got to be helped. We've got to figure out where we're missing it on our setups. Everything we worked toward the last couple of years doesn't work now. The only thing I know is we've got new tires on the car.
"We go to Sears Point and we use the setup we qualified fifth with last year and finished sixth. That setup was scary. That's just how much it's changed for us, and I don't know why. It just has. I don't feel like I've changed that much. Maybe I should have changed more.
"We had a top 10 car all the time at Daytona in February. The car came on late in a run. When people's tires starting wearing out or whatever, Tommy (crew chief Baldwin) made some good decisions with air pressure and panard bar. I couldn't run the bottom of the track until the end of the race. That was the best the car had been all day. We were sitting there running third or fourth when things started happening, so we had got ourselves in position. The first key was to miss the big wreck. Then we got ourselves in position. We got the car to handle, got some good breaks and were sitting there running in the top five. That's where you've got to be to be capable of winning the race. We didn't have the fastest car like we did in the 2001 Daytona 500. We got taken out in 2001 the same way some of the guys did this year.
"Dodge is down right now. We're down on motor and down a little bit on aero. For whatever reason, it seems like we (22 team) get down on motors at the start of the season and then by mid season we pick it back up. We've done it the last two years. This is the third year. The guys are working hard, but we just haven't got it right now. Body wise, it's difficult to say. I do know at Michigan we had a new motor combination, and I don't think it's ironic that all of a sudden we're running in the top 10 again. I think the motor combination was helping us that much. We broke a piston which was unrelated, but there's just areas we've got to pick up to get back in the top 10.
"We've got to get the motor where it will breath, and we've got to get the cowl pressure going better and then hopefully we'll be like we were. Winning the Daytona 500 made that weekend, but we've got 36 weekends. That's a dream come true. As I won the race as a driver, I minimize it because I've got another race the next weekend. As time goes on, that feat will mean more and more to me. I think of a race like the Indianapolis 500 and that seems huge to me. If I went out and won it, it wouldn't seem that huge any more. That's how I work this game mentally. It keeps me down to earth.
"The 20-race stretch we're coming up on is just a grind for everybody. I don't think people lose focus or anything. I would love to have one or two weekends in there you could plan a family event around. It's hard on everybody."
TOMMY BALDWIN (Crew chief No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid R/T)
"We've got a new car for Daytona. It ran pretty good at Talladega, so we're ready to go back The night race is just a little shorter. The handling obviously doesn't come into play as much as it does in the 500 during the day, but it's still a handling race track. After winning the Daytona 500 and coming back there, it'll be exciting. You need to be in the right line and in the right place at the right time. If everything doesn't go your way, you're not going to win the race. Hopefully we can be in all the right places when we need to be there "We've broken seven times this year running in the top 12. We're not accustomed to breaking. It's nobody's fault. Stupid little things are happening. We've got to get through this little slump we're in and move forward. Ward is struggling a little bit with this tire. He hasn't been able to give us some good feedback. We're searching, trying to help him. We came a long way at Michigan. I'll be excited to get to Chicago. That'll be the next place we'll be worried about. Daytona is a different beast. We didn't run real good at Chicago last year, but we're going to make some changes when we go back.
"I think we're as good as anybody with our restrictor-plate engines. Usually qualifying will tell it all. I'd put us in the top five with restrictor-plate engines. I think Dodge is down a little bit right now. There's no way we should have got things taken away from us. Since we have, everybody else has got things added. We've just got to keep focused on getting our changes back to where we had 'em and then work from there.
"I told everybody last week, I said, 'by winning the Daytona 500, if that's going to cost us the year we've had, I'd rather not win that race.' It seems like we just can't get our rhythm since then. It's a shame too, because that's usually something you can build a lot of momentum on. We haven't been able to capitalize on it. It's not been any of our own doing really. I hope winning the Daytona 500 didn't have anything to do with all our back luck. If it did, then nobody will want to win it next year."