Blaney salvages top-15 finish for ...
Blaney salvages top-15 finish for #77 Jasper Ford after flat tire deflates top-five hopes in Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis.
INDIANAPOLIS, IN. -- On a day when he passed perhaps more cars than any other driver, Dave Blaney's fate in the 2002 Brickyard 400 was sealed in one moment on pit road that cost him a chance at his first Winston Cup top-five finish on one of NASCAR's biggest races. It was a defining moment that remains indelible throughout any season.
After completing his planned stop for two right-side tires during a caution period on Lap 129, Blaney moved at the drop of the jack, only to hear Crew Chief Ryan Pemberton calling for him to stop. The left-front tire was flat, but the damage was done and Blaney as forced to nurse the #77 Jasper Engines & Transmissions Ford Taurus back around for an additional stop, careful not to allow the flapping flat to damage the fender and suspension area.
And although he charged back through the lead-lap back-markers to finish 15th, Blaney left his fourth Brickyard 400 wondering what might have been had he not been plagued with bad luck for the sixth consecutive race. For over one-third of the 160-lap race, the #77 Jasper Ford was one of the five fastest cars on the track, bolting early from its 33rd-place starting position into 13th-place by the second caution period on Lap 37. Just in the opening and closing 35-lap segments alone, Blaney passed 36 cars of the 51 cars he passed on the track during the 400-mile race.
"It's true we had some bad luck again today, but I won't hesitate to say that we surely had a top-ten car and maybe better than that," said Blaney. " Some days, you'll feel that way if you don't finish where you should, but you stop short of saying anything like that because it sounds like an excuse.
"Before we had to pit twice with the flat, we were positioned just like the #2 car (Rusty Wallace) was to make that stop, then maybe come again for two tires late if we needed to and be right in the front group. We raced right with the #2 all day long and--with the kind of power our Penske-Jasper engines were making--our lap-times were as good all day as the #2 and the #12. It's disappointing for me and for our guys but they're giving me cars every week now that can run right at the front, so we're going to make some noise in last half of the season."
Had he not encountered his crushing fate in the final 75 miles of the race, Blaney would have likely cycled through to a a top-five position for the final four-lap shootout after debris brought out the eighth caution period of the race, bunching eventual winner Bill Elliott, runner-up Wallace, Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman. the second Penske-Jasper Engine entry to finish in the top-four. Kevin Harvick, three-time IMS winner Jeff Gordon, Steve Park, Robby Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and two-time Indy winner Dale Jarrett rounded out the top-ten.
Blaney consistently raced with and passed at least five of the eventual top-ten finishers throughout the middle stages of the race, including runner-up Wallace, who led late until Elliott--who led 93 of the 160 laps and dominated the race, regained the lead for with 12 laps to go.
"It was a really great second place, if there ever was one," said Wallace, who finished second for the third time in nine years in the Brickyard 400. "We went from 35th up to 10th in nothing flat. I fought a real tight car all day. We two-tired it and took a bunch of bite out the last stop and the old hot-rod took off then. We took the lead and I really thought we were gonna win it, but I got a little loose up off of two and Elliott got me.
"I'm happy to get second after qualifying so bad out there. I was embarrassed again with our qualifying run, but the Brickyard has always been kind to me. We laid out a good run for our fans and our sponsors today. Getting passed late like that brought back bad memories because I've been passed late for the win in the race before and I wanted to win this race so bad for Roger Penske. He won the Indy 500 this year and it would have been great to win the Brickyard 400."
Newman was consistently in the front group in his home state race, but could never get to the lead as fellow Hoosier Tony Stewart led the early stages until Elliott moved to the top of the fabled front-stretch scoring pylon 100 miles into the race.
"We just kept chasing the balance but we were tight all day," said Newman, after his second Brickyard 400 start. "Every run we were tight, tight, tight and we just kept working with it. It was just a matter of time before we got track position back. There at the end I think we might have been one of the fastest cars, but that number 9 Dodge was awful strong.
"We could see the front from where we finished and winning my first race in my home state would have been unbelievable but it's something I can't really speak about. It'd be real cool and be great, but it just wouldn't have been about being in Indiana or being at the Brickyard 400. It'd be about winning for Roger Penske and for Don Miller and Rusty and everyone on my team that's helped me get to this point. But we finished fourth and I hope we don't have to wait to get our first win until next year's Brickyard 400."
For an emotional Elliott, the 1988 NASCAR Winston Cup champion and 15-time most-popular driver, it was a fitting ending to a spectacular month in which--on consecutive weekends--he won the pole for the race at New Hampshire, won from the pole position at Pocono and then led 93 of 160 laps at Indy to add his name to a who's who of NASCAR legends on the Brickyard 400 trophy--including multiple-winners Gordon and Jarrett, Bobby Labonte, Ricky Rudd and the late Dale Earnhardt.
"It feels like it took an eternity to get here," said Elliott about finally winning at Indianapolis for his 43rd career WC win. "As I was running along here the last several weeks, I've been reflecting on a lot of different things. My dad passed away back in '98, my nephew passed away, what all that has meant to me throughout my lifetime. You know, just wishing they were here to celebrate this victory.
"You know, all I could think about was all those folks, you know. It's satisfying to come here and win. But, you know, this was just ... I feel like all those people were right in the car with me today ... from my dad, my nephew, to my grandmother, grandfathers ... you know, just kind of holding their hands around me, making me make the right decisions. It's just an unbelievable feeling."
With the finish, Blaney moved up one spot to 20th-place in the Winston Cup point standings, 12 points behind 19th-place Jeff Green, 49 points behind 18th-place Bobby Labonte and 132 points behind 17th-place Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
The other Penske-Jasper Engine entries also enjoyed positive point-days at IMS with Wallace moved from eighth to fifth--171 points behind WC points leader Sterling Marlin, after surrendering huge points last weekend with his 40th-place finish at Pocono. Newman remains 12th, but only 72 points behind 10th-place Kurt Busch entering next weekend's race at Watkins Glen.
As was the case for the SaveMart 300 at Sears Point in June, the Jasper Motorsports team will run two entries at the second road-course race of the 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup season--Dave Blaney in the #77 Jasper Taurus with Crew Chief Ryan Pemberton and Boris Said in the #67 Jasper Taurus with Co-Owner Mark Harrah again serving as crew chief.
Both Blaney and Said enjoyed top-ten runs throughout the Sears Point race until each car lost track position after being spun around in traffic. Blaney finished 20th and Said dropped out at the race's 2/3-mark, finishing 41st.