WARD BURTON (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: Burton and the Bill Davis Racing Team has been in the top five consistently throughout the three-day test session. Burton, car owner Bill Davis and engine builder Terry Elledge discuss...
WARD BURTON (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Burton and the Bill Davis Racing Team has been in the top five consistently throughout the three-day test session. Burton, car owner Bill Davis and engine builder Terry Elledge discuss the test and outlook for 2002.
"I think the team was real prepared for the test. We tried a lot of things. A lot of things we thought would help didn't and some things that we didn't think would help did. It's a typical speedway test. They were totally prepared with the motor car and the actual 500 car. We're not in the Bud Shootout, so we're putting everything into our Daytona 500 car. We've run this car for years. It's seen its really good times and it's seen some bad times, too, but it's an awful good race car. It could have won here last year. I'd be fortunate if I get another car that good for the Daytona 500.
"Because of the restrictor plate change, it's hard to gauge what you've got compared to everybody else. I'd like to be able to run a little bit faster. The aero rule might bunch us up again, but it's a step in the right direction.
"The Chevrolets are good, there's no doubt about that, but it's too early to tell. We'll know more in a couple of weeks when we come back down here. I think everybody is pretty much on their own. Everybody just about has a multiple car team now, so hopefully we'll learn a little bit more when the 23 team (Hut Stricklin) comes down here next week.
"Obviously nobody out here is showing their whole hand. We haven't got our best motors here and we haven't finish with our aero.
"We're so much more prepared than we were last year. We've got seven cars sitting there that are proven. All of 'em are already painted black and yellow. We finished fifth with our Atlanta car. We finished sixth with our Rockingham car, and if the caution hadn't come out, we had a shot at winning. Our short track car we finished third with at Martinsville. We've got our Charlotte/Darlington car that we won a race with. We've got proven cars. Last year we sold every car we had, so we started all new. With Dodge and Goodyear, it took half a season to get regrouped from 2000. We're in better shape and better prepared now than we've ever been.
"It's hard to be consistent, and it's hard not to have any bad luck. I just think the knowledge we gained with getting the new tire to work, the improvement we've made with the motor and the power curve is night and day compared to where we first started, with the exception of the restrictor plate. I think we're really close to getting where we need to be as a team.
"We gained a ton on the short tracks. We were already pretty good on the intermediate and speedways. We've gotten a lot better on the short tracks. I don't see any one thing that we're missing. We want to find a guy that can take my buddy Tommy Baldwin's place on pit stops. We need to get him out of harm's way and get him where he can watch the race a little bit more, but we haven't found anybody who can take his place (tire changer) yet. We've had consistent pit stops. I'm more upbeat than I've ever been about the race team, about the two teams working together as one. We've got a bunch of great people, and I think we're ready to rock 'n roll."
BILL DAVIS (Car owner Bill Davis Racing Dodge Intrepid R/Ts)
"Ward's car has been fast. Last year down here we thought we were going to be in position to win the race (Daytona 500) and it got taken away from us in the big wreck. We're pleased. All of our guys have worked real hard, from the fab shop to the chassis shop. When you come here, you've got to talk about our motor guys. Terry (Elledge) and his guys work real hard. Terry has always had great plate motors, from winning championships with Earnhardt to all the success they've had over there at Childress' to what he did last year in such a short period of time. We brought a car down here that was capable of winning the Daytona 500. That was pretty phenomenal. Hopefully we've made it better. As we learn more with other cars, we apply it to that one. It's run eight plate races, and we just try to keep making it better.
"The one engine rule scares me to death. My point all along has been that one motor failure in a points race is going to cost more for a team owner than all the qualifiers and all the practice motors put together for the year. I don't think everybody understands that practice motors are just miled out parts. We don't build brand new $50,000 practice motors. We take a block that's got a weak point in it and use that. We take a cylinder that's maybe had a problem and been repaired. We don't have confidence to race it, but we'll practice it. We'll take rods that have got a race or two on 'em and put them in a practice motor.
"We don't build a brand new qualifier for every race. Say it's six per team or four per team, we take them to several races before we rebuild them. That gives us the security to put in a fresh motor on Saturday afternoon or Saturday morning and know we're going to finish that race. It kind of messes up our parts cycle. A rod that we used to use for two races, now we just use for one. A lot of our components, we're not going to be able to realize the miles out of 'em because we can't use 'em for multiple races. I'm not sure we've accomplished anything here. I think it could potentially cost more. We're not going to get the total miles out of some of the pieces that we've been getting in the past. We're certainly not going to have any places to go with a rod that we run for one race. Maybe it has 600 or 700 miles on it. Then it's done. We don't have any place to go with it.
"I think we're good. We're pleased with what we've got. We stack up pretty well against everybody else. We got going mid season last year. We struggled the first half of the year. We didn't know what we needed. It was all new to us with Dodge, new bodies, new motors, new combinations. We had to work through all that. We got going, and we were happy at the end of the season. At the same time, we had an incredible amount of bad luck at the end of last season. We'd get caught up in somebody else's mess, had some stupid parts failures, had a screw go through the radiator at Michigan when we were running in the top five. That was a shame. I really believe we were in the top five with 20 something laps to go and got into somebody else's mess a number of times. We'd never had that kind of bad luck before. If we've got all that behind us and we hit the ground running and we didn't have any changes on this team, everybody stayed. I believe we'll be a much stronger race team than we were last year.
"Hopefully we'll get through all our notes and the 23 team (Hut Stricklin) will be able to come down here next week and start where we left off and validate with their car what we learned from the 22. Then both cars can come back in February and be good. I think Hut's going to surprise some people. I think that car is going to be a lot stronger than they expect it's going to be. I'm quickly becoming a big fan of Philippe's (crew chief Lopez). He's a sharp guy and a good team player. I think for the first time we're going to have the chemistry between the teams we've always needed. What we did with Dave Blaney in the last four races last year, they were bad fast everywhere they went. The way he (Lopez) worked with these guys on the 22, I'm really looking forward to it.
"I believe we'll have a car that's capable of winning the Daytona 500. Ward is relentless in the draft. I can't really say I know that much about how Hut's going to run. He hasn't had that good of a car in years. He'll have more to work with than he's had in awhile. He'll have a good crew on pit road. I think he's going to surprise some people."
TERRY ELLEDGE (Head engine builder Bill Davis Racing)
"You've got to rethink your whole program. An engine could run 700 miles or better now at some of these tracks. Obviously nobody wants to sacrifice power. It's no different than when they took the bump rubbers away from the car guys. They knew the speed was there and they were going to get it back. You get a performance level and you hate to give it up unless you have to. Somebody isn't going to give it up. They're going to make it work. You've got to rethink your entire engine program, from the standpoint of putting engines in the car, make sure everything is hooked up properly. You no longer have this qualifying engine that can take all this abuse if you pull it out anyway. By the time you get to Sunday with the race motor, everything works. All the little things you go through to get to race day with the other engines, they take the abuse. Now, that has to stop. We've got to be careful qualifying. We've got to be careful at the shop. We've to be careful all the way up to the start of the race.
"You're going to lose a little bit in qualifying. The reason we ran qualifying engines at all was because the level of competition is so tight. At a place like Bristol, it may mean the difference between pitting on the front straight or the back straight. With us it was important to get everything we could every week. With qualifying engines out of the way, I think everybody is on the same playing field again. We're all in the same boat.
"My biggest issue about the single-engine rule is not the rule itself. We can make it work. It's nothing was really broken. We have all the pieces. They're already here. They already fit. I would have liked to see them implemented over time, not overnight. That would have been good for us. It would have helped us get our cars in order with the guys on the crews. Those are the things that will shop up over time. Little issues will show up that we have to address. Because we're a vendor-driven industry, we make very few of the parts at our shop that go into these engines. We depend on our vendors to either develop something for us or correct something for us, and that takes time.
"I think we'll be OK with the one-engine rule. It's going to throw us a little bit of a loop because there's so many unknowns. At the first of last year, we had a lot heaped on us. We had a new engine, new car, new tire. It was a bear getting it all sorted out, but basically we did get it all sorted out. We knew it going in. We knew we were going to pay a penalty switching over to another brand. It's too competitive not to happen. We accepted that and went on with it. We were happy. We ran good, and at the end of the year we won a race. It was the right move for us, and we're looking forward to this year starting over with the same cars.
"This is the first time we've run the 7/8th plate on a Dodge. How do I compare it to anything? I have no idea what they're going to do. We have to be ready for anything. I think they're looking at picking up a couple of tenths or a little bit more. A 64th bigger plate on there might pick 'em up five or six mph. Maybe that's what they're looking for. For every thousandths of diameter of a restrictor plate, it's about one horsepower. A 64th might pick you up 15 horsepower. It doesn't take much of a difference to make a big difference in one of these cars.
"I first started in 1978 for M.C. Anderson. Benny Parsons was our driver. I worked a long time with Richard Childress. That was a good organization, a real top-notch organization. Bill Davis' is too. That's what made me as successful as I have been, being around really good people. That makes it all work. Having experience with those people is very important.
"We feel like there's still improvements to be made. We worked hard just to get to the track last year. Now we have time to step back a little bit and say, 'I think I can improve it here or improve it there.' That's what we're looking for this year, to finesse what we have.
"These restrictor-plate deals, it's the total package. It's not just one thing any more. You're making such small power you can't overcome the aero drag issues with the car nor can a car make up for an engine that won't run. It's the whole package. It takes the whole group together to make it work. We use this for a sorting period to get a direction."