CALIFORNIA NOTES--DAVE BLANEY AND ...
CALIFORNIA NOTES--DAVE BLANEY AND #77 JASPER MOTORSPORTS TEAM
In the past decade, Doug Bawel--primary owner of the #77 Jasper Motorsports team and President of Jasper Engines & Transmissions, has worked steadily to put his team in position to be a weekly contender in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. After an upbeat start to the 2003 WC season (one pole position, three top-10 finishes in the first five races), Dave Blaney and the #77 Jasper Engines & Transmissions Ford team struggled to the end of the first quarter of the season, which ended two weeks ago at Martinsville. As his team approaches this weekend's race at California--where Blaney led 27 laps and finished ninth in 2002--Bawel assesses his team's progress with new Crew Chief Robert "Bootie" Barker after nine races and its prognosis for the second segment of the 2003 season.
**DOUG BAWEL on start of 2003 season for the #77 Jasper Ford team--..
"I'm very proud of the start we had for this season, but like with any journey, we've also realized that the end isn't just over the next hill. The NASCAR Winston Cup Series is the most competitive form of racing in the world and how hard you work to move your program forward each week is the measure of where you'll be at season's end. We're at the end of the first quarter and we're not satisfied with where we are in the points (24th), certainly.
"But we have identified several areas we will work on, including a better sense of communication and analysis of performance during practice and the race between driver and crew chief, as well as a realization that our frequency for testing needs to increase. Identifying areas you need to work on and addressing them as quickly as you can is essential in any business. And we all seem to sometimes get carrier away with the kind of early success that we had in March and where ultimately you are in your overall program. We're working on it."
**BAWEL on changes after 2002 season and continued goals for 2003 season--.
"We reached a certain level of consistency (four top-10s, 12 finishes between 15th and 20th) in 2002, and that--along with our ability to finish races (only 2 DNFs)--helped us finish higher in the points than we ever have (19th). But it was not the level you'd want to remain at to move forward to where we wanted to be, so we made some changes and many people may have said "What are you doing that for?'.
"In the short-term, it may seem we've sacrificed that mid-range consistency, but--with three top-10s in the first five races--we've already almost reached the number of top-10 finishes (four) we had last season, but we've equaled the number of DNFs we've had. The Penske-Jasper Engine program has continued to perform as it has the past two years, with a win (Ryan Newman at Texas) and four pole positions (Newman-2, Blaney, Jeremy Mayfield). We knew there would be short-term risks in making the changes we made, but we still feel we're on the right track over the entire journey we're on for the 2003 season."
**BAWEL on returning to California Speedway, where Blaney finished ninth in 2002--."We had a good afternoon at California last spring, led some laps, and actually had a chance to win the race until we made some questionable decisions with our strategy at the finish. It was the first race we had with Dave where I realized that we did have a chance to take a significant step up with Dave during the season. The overall day showed us that there was some light there, but--truthfully--we never got a whole lot brighter as the season went along, and that's what moved us to make the changes we did during the off-season. The light from that day in California never lit up with the sort of brilliance you can really build on, like Dave's run at Darlington (third-place) last month. That's what we're aspiring to with where we want to progress during the second quarter of the season and beyond. Maybe the race at California this weekend can get us back on track with that."
MARTINSVILLE REWIND (TWO WEEKS AGO)
With the Virginia 500 going uncharacteristically caution-free over the first segment of the 500-lap event at Martinsville Speedway, Dave Blaney's early handling problems made the #77 Jasper Engines & Transmissions Ford an easy target for streaking leader and eventual winner Jeff Gordon, putting him a lap down in the first half-hour and dooming him to a run in the back third of the field throughout a long afternoon.
After starting 15th, Blaney struggled early to get the Jasper Ford to turn into the tight corners connecting the .526-mile paper-clip sharped oval, sending him backward through the field as pole-sinner Gordon distanced himself from the front of the field. Gordon began lapping cars on Lap 28 and caught Blaney 34 laps later, dropping him one lap down as the race ran caution-free for the first 80 laps.
The early deficit at a track averaging 13-plus caution periods over the past five years cost Blaney and the Jasper Motorsports team a shot at a competitive finish, running in the back third of the field throughout the day before finishing 31st, three laps down to Gordon, led 190 laps and won for the first time in 2003.
CALIFORNIA REWIND (2002)
Blaney and the #77 Jasper Engines & Transmissions Ford team jumped five positions to 17th in points after leading 27 laps and finishing ninth in the California race. Blaney started 32nd and climbed to 12th after a two-tire stop during first caution period.
Blaney ran in the top-10 for the remainder of the race, working on fuel strategy throughout the 250-lap race, and possibly would have been the only team to make the final 75-mile segment of the race without a fuel stop.
A late-race accident between Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kevin Harvick spoiled the strategy, with the Jasper team opting to take two tires on last stop, returning to the track in seventh. Jimmie Johnson, who opted for fuel only on his final stop, won his first career WC race in only his 13th start.
* DAVE BLANEY and the #77 Jasper Engines & Transmissions Ford team enter the Auto Club 500 at California Speedway ranked 24th in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series standings, 100 points behind 14th-place Robbie Gordon after his 31st-place finish in the Virginia 500 two weeks ago at Martinsville; Blaney started 15th but went a lap down early to eventual winner Jeff Gordon and battled lapped traffic throughout the remainder of the race.
* Jeremy Mayfield's pole position at Talladega (4/6) gave PENSKE-JASPER ENGINES one win and four pole positions in nine races thus far in 2003; Mayfield and Evernham Motorsports teammate Bill Elliott used PJE power at Talladega as part of a cooperative program between the two entities;RUSTY WALLACE leads the trio of PJE-powered entries in the WC standings, ranking 16th (970 points-2 top-10s), while Penske teammate RYAN NEWMAN, who won at Texas in late March, ranks 20th (943 points-two pole positions, 3 top-10s); BLANEY ranks 24th (871 points-one pole position, 3 top-10s).
* BLANEY's career-best third-place finish at Darlington last month was 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.
* In last year's race at California, BLANEY started 32nd (39.236 secs.) and finished ninth in his first trip to the track with the #77 Jasper team, leading 27 laps mid-race and running in the top-ten throughout the last half of the event; possibly would have been the only team to make the final 75 miles without a fuel stop, but a late-race accident spoiled the strategy, bringing all teams to pit road with 20 laps to go; BLANEY's best career WC start at California (three starts) is 15th (4/01--39.818 secs.) and his best finish is ninth (4/02); best-start for Jasper-sponsored entries (six starts) is 16th (4/00-Robert Pressley/39.067 secs.) and best-finish is ninth (BLANEY-4/02).
* The Auto Club 500 at California Speedway will be the tenth 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 Auto Club 500 at California will be BARKER's 14th WC 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.
* This weekend's race is also BARKER's 15th 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.