For the second straight week, Dave Blaney and ...
For the second straight week, Dave Blaney and #77 Jasper team post season-best start and Penske-Jasper engine entries each in top-ten.
LONDON, N.H. -- With a new in-house car at his disposal, Dave Blaney flirted with winning his first NASCAR Winston Cup Series pole position before settling for a fifth-place starting position for this weekend's New England 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway. Blaney's time of 29.096 secs. was slightly more than a tenth-of-a-second off Bill Elliott's pole-speed (28.971 secs.) but assured the #77 Jasper Engines & Transmissions Ford of a season-best starting spot for the second straight week. Blaney qualified seventh for the Tropicana 400 at Chicagoland Speedway last weekend.
And for the second straight weekend, each of the three Penske-Jasper Engine entries in the field will start in the top-ten, led by Rusty Wallace's third-place effort (29.048 secs.) Ryan Newman, the 39th car to make a qualifying attempt as track conditions cooled late in the session, will start seventh (29.103 secs.). Blaney held the pole until Wallace--the 29th of 43 cars to qualify--posted his time. Mike Skinner will start outside Elliott on the front row and Bobby Labonte outside Wallace on Row 2 to round out the top-five.
While many cars in the first third of the qualifying rundown dropped off as much as a third-of-a-second from their practice speeds earlier in the day, Blaney and Wallace each stayed within hundredths of their best practice laps and the best of six Fords qualifying in the top-ten for Sunday's race.
"That was a real good lap for us," said Blaney, whose best career NASCAR Winston Cup Series start at New Hampshire was last November's 25th-place start (on points) for the season-finale. "This thing was good all morning. We were just trying to get our tires worked around to where we had the right set on at the right time. It seemed that was critical here. The new ones didn't go very good but this set was just right. The tricky thing is getting off the brake pedal here. You've got to get in there fast and on the brake hard and then off the brake and let it roll fast and hope your race car does it's job getting off. There are a lot of marks to hit here to get a good lap."
"This is a brand new car. It's never seen the race track before, so these Jasper guys are doing a great job bringing new cars out. The last six weeks they've given me great cars everywhere we've gone and it's showing in the way we've qualified and raced each week. The last three cars we've run (at Sears Point, Daytona, Chicago) have been cars we've put together top-to-bottom for the most part in our shop, but this car is completely our effort, from the chassis up, with a lot of the things that we've worked toward that better fit my driving style than some of the cars that carried over from last season.
"It took Ryan and (co-owner) Mark Harrah and I a while to understand that we needed to change some things about how their cars were put together before I came to the team and where we wanted to go from this point forward. We really started to make progress with all that about the end of April--when we led a good number of laps at California--and we've been real competitive just about everywhere since--from the road courses to the superspeedways and everywhere in between. That's encouraging."
While many cars in the first third of the qualifying rundown dropped off as much as a third-of-a-second from their practice speeds earlier in the day, Blaney and Wallace each stayed within hundredths of their best practice laps and enter Sunday's race as the best of six Fords qualifying in the top-ten.
"It's been forever since I've been on the pole but that's a great starting spot for us for Sunday," said Wallace, sixth in the WC point standings entering this weekend's race as well as the current NASCAR Winston Cup Series leader in mile-completed (99.8%). "One year you get nine poles and the next year you don't get anything. One year you think you're the man, the next year you're a zero so that's the way this sport goes.
"It took awhile for me to get used to the race track, the different transitions and stuff. We changed the car up a lot. We were moving springs around quite a bit -- a lot of things -- and finally got it to where it felt the very best to me. We were somewhere between 11th and 14th in practice times, but I thought I could pick it up for qualifying and I was able to. When I went down into turn one, the car was real loose getting in the corner, it got real loose in the center, but up off the corner it drove really, really good. I thought it would fix itself the second lap and it never did. It kept doing the same thing, so I was probably lucky to be third, but we've had a good car right off the truck, just like Ryan said. We tuned on it and got it better, so I'm happy with the run."
Newman, who won his third pole position of the 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup season last weekend at Chicagoland, continued his torrid rookie-season qualifying in the Penske-Jasper powered #12 Alltel Ford with his quick lap late in the qualifying session at NHIS.
"That's not bad for the first Cup trip to Loudon," said Newman. "If we can come home with a top 10, which I think we will, that would be really great. We started out and were about 25th or 30th and just kept working on it and getting the car better. It was a good team effort today in qualifying. We tested here and I think it helped a little bit just me driving. Overall, though, these guys in Winston Cup can adjust their cars so quick and get it right pretty quick as far as closing up the competition.
"The car was pretty good all day. When we unloaded it wasn't as good as we wanted, but it wasn't bad. We did get the luxury of coming up here and testing and learned a few things, but, in the meantime, the speedway got re-paved in three and four and the weather conditions are quite a bit different from what we tested so things had to be changed a little bit. We kind of just tuned on it all day and knocked off a pretty good lap in qualifying, but it wasn't what it took."