The return to Chicagoland Speedway represents a red-letter date for both the ...
The return to Chicagoland Speedway represents a red-letter date for both the #77 Jasper Ford team--which posted a career-best second-place finish at the track in 2001--and for Dave Blaney, who drove a back-up car into the top-ten in the inaugural race in Joliet. With good momentum gathering for the team over the last eight weeks, the Tropicana 400 represents a great opportunity for both Blaney and his team to contend for their first NASCAR victories.
DAVE BLANEY -- #77 JASPER ENGINES & TRANSMISSIONS FORD TAURUS
* DAVE BLANEY and the #77 Jasper Engines & Transmissions Ford team enter the Tropicana 400 at Chicagoland Speedway ranked 19th in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series standings, 29 points behind 18th-place Kyle Petty and 130 points behind Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in 15th; in the 2001 Tropicana 400 at Chicagoland, BLANEY started 35th (30.059 secs.) and finished 12th on the lead-lap behind race-winner Kevin Harvick and runner-up Robert Pressley in the #77 Jasper Engines & Transmissions Ford; Pressley, who started 13th (29.830 secs), posted a career-best finish for both himself and the #77 Jasper team in the inaugural Chicagoland race.
* As the 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season reaches its mid-point after Daytona, the #77 Jasper Engines & Transmissions Ford team in 2002 ranks five positions higher in the Winston Cup point standings (19th-24th) than at this point in 2001, has better average start (26.29-28.87) and average finish (20.06-22.94) ratios; BLANEY ranks fourth in miles completed behind Penske-Jasper Engines teammate Rusty Wallace (fourth in points), defending NASCAR Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon (fifth in points) and Rookie-of-the-Year leader Jimmie Johnson (third in points); BLANEY ranked 27th in the 2001 Winston Cup standings entering the Tropicana 400 with his former team, (#93-Bill Davis Racing).
* Since his ninth-place finish at California in late April, BLANEY has posted three top-15 finishes, led four of the last eight races and was on his way to another potential finish at the front for the second race in a row in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona last weekend, running in the top-ten for 105 laps (of 160) and as high as fourth through much of the middle stages of the event behind eventual race-winner Michael Waltrip, defending race champion Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and current WC points leader Sterling Marlin; BLANEY was collected in a spin by Ryan Newman with less than 10 miles remaining, finishing 28th.
* Rusty Wallace leads the three Penske-Jasper Engines entries in the 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup Series standings with ten top-ten finishes and 2,224 points (fourth), 144 points behind leader Sterling Marlin; Ryan Newman (1,868 points) ranks 16th and has five top-five and eight top-ten finishes; BLANEY ranks 19th (1,751 points), 117 points behind Newman.
DAVE BLANEY ON THE DAYTONA DISAPPOINTMENT AND CHICAGO HOPE:
"It's just a shame that we couldn't close the deal and get a great finish in the Pepsi 400 because we were as good as anyone--with maybe the exception of the #15 (Waltrip)--for most of the race. The guys we raced with through the middle stages of the race (Waltrip, Earnhardt, Jr., Marlin, Wallace, Mark Martin) were the ones that raced for the win at the end and all finished in the top-six. For the last four races (Pocono, Michigan, Sears Point, Daytona), we've had a legitimate top-ten car and been a contender every week, but we've only gotten one top-ten finish out of it.
"Still, it's a great indication of how far this team has come in terms of putting together a plan for the second half of the season and what we need to do each week to win some races. I'm disappointed about Daytona but excited about going to Chicago--where the #77 almost won last year and where I had a good run (12th)--and excited about the rest of the year. In the last month, we've been a contender at four different types of race tracks and that's a good sign we're moving in the right direction with all our programs."
CREW CHIEF RYAN PEMBERTON ON LAST YEAR'S 'NEAR-MISS' AT CHICAGO:
"When I think back about last year's race at Chicago, it's a good feeling to know how well the weekend went for us, but--for a driver, team and crew chief who have never won a race--I wonder if we should have done more to try to get that first win for everyone. (Kevin) Harvick had dominated the later stages of the race, but we were closing fast at the end.
"Robert (Pressley) dogged him the last 2-3 laps and it was probably the perfect opportunity for a veteran driver who's not had a win to maybe race him a little more aggressively and become a first-time winner. And as bad as we all wanted it, you've got to respect Robert for not doing something out-of-line just to get to Victory Lane. That was the first weekend we had really put it all together as a team last year--brand new car, brand new track and we went in confident with our big-track program. We left there feeling we were really on-track to making some big strides.
"Running at the front every week changes the way you see the race and call the race as a crew chief, and that was the case as the laps wound down at Chicago. The closer to the front you are, the more you have to look at what's needed to gain positions. What got you from 25th to 15th each week in the running order is not necessarily what will get you from fifth to first. The going gets tougher for each one of the spot the closer you get to the top of the board.
"That's kind of where we are with Dave right now, I think. We've been competitive everywhere but Dover over the last two months. He had a great run at Daytona last week, and we should have had more to show for how well he ran than a 28th-place finish. The restrictor-plate tracks are cruel that way, the way they eat up your hopes in a heartbeat, most times in some situation not of your doing.
"I'm in the best situation I've been in as a crew chief to win a race (with Blaney) since the first year I worked with Ernie Irvan (1998). He's the only driver I've worked with (in 185 starts--eight drivers) who's won a race, but Ernie was driving hurt much of the time and we never had him for a full season (at the #36 MB2 team) so I probably wasn't even where I am now with Dave.
"It's takes a while to learn what a driver needs in the cars we build for him, what he's capable of on the track with our group, what kind of decisions are going to rattle him. We're just getting to learn Dave that way now and he's really been responding. Chicago is a place that has all the things that are positive right now for this team--the right history, the right motor program, the kind of track the driver has thrived on and a lot of momentum going in. We'll see how it all comes together."