Pontiac Racing Watkins Glen preview

FOR HIS CATERPILLAR PONTIAC TEAM DETROIT (August 8, 2000) - Caterpillar Pontiac driver Ward Burton isn't one to dwell on the past, but he would gladly make one exception. Through the first 14 races of the 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup Series...


DETROIT (August 8, 2000) - Caterpillar Pontiac driver Ward Burton isn't one to dwell on the past, but he would gladly make one exception. Through the first 14 races of the 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season, Burton collected one win, three top-five and 10 top-10 finishes. But in the last six races, he has scored just one top-10 finish - a seventh at Daytona - and five finishes of 18th or worse. As the series heads to Watkins Glen this week, Burton is eager to see his team return to the way things used to be.

One thing Burton must capitalize on this week at The Glen in order to be successful is track position. While it has become critical everywhere, it is especially important on a road course where passing is at a premium. Earning good track position is a process that starts with a great run in Bud Pole qualifying. But the lion's share of success with track position is the result of great pit strategy and pit stops on race day, which has become a separate science all to itself.


.on his team's recent struggles: "We've just had some little things happen that, while we were at the racetrack, we couldn't understand. It's stuff that when we've gotten back to the shop we've started diagnosing and started finding some things. I think what Tommy and I and the rest of the guys had learned to do, now it's not working. So I've got to adjust a little bit in the driving style and we've got to change the car quite a bit from where we were because we used to be knocking on the door and now we're kind of struggling a little bit. "But we've got a good group here. Obviously we're a little bit down right now because we've gotten our tails whipped a little bit, but we will get it turned around. I have complete faith in that. It's just that hopefully it' s sooner than later. We've been steadily moving upward for over a year and a half now, and we've just found ourselves in a little bit of a slump. We' ve got to stay positive and get out of it and I believe we will. We've just got to work hard and pay a lot of attention to what's going on around us."

.on the importance of track position at Watkins Glen: "It's very important. It's one of the places that ranks as important as any of the places we go. It's sort of like Sears Point. We were out of the fuel sequence. Had I not had to come in for fuel so much earlier than the other guys, we could run with the top seven cars. Obviously I couldn't run with the '24' and there were a couple others, but I could run with the guys from fifth to 10th, so track position was everything. I think we'll see that again at Watkins Glen, although there are more opportunities to pass at Watkins Glen."

.on the pressure of getting and maintaining good track position: "It puts a lot of pressure on the pit crew. It puts a lot of pressure on me. I need to try to qualify well to start well. It's pressure on everybody. Even at a place like Michigan, it's a race on Friday, so you want to do well for your team then. But if you have a really good car and the driver is capable, you can make up for some bad days on Friday but it does make it a little bit tougher."

.on how the importance of track position has increased in the past few years: "It seems like track position is getting more important every year. I think some of it is the tires that we have now. That's probably most of it. But also now, we've got 25 to 30 good race teams where back in '94 there were only 10 to 12 good race teams. The gap has closed from what you would consider a good team from a team that could come up with something any weekend."

.on the importance of getting on and off of pit road quickly to gain spots: "You've got to be careful. I'd actually rather be a little conservative than overdo it on the pit road speed alley, from where the time starts to where it ends because if you are real aggressive there it can ruin your whole day. You've got to be careful there. But at the same time it is important, very much so, for a driver to get in well and get out well. There have been some areas where I've needed to improve on that part, too. The only time getting in your stall is critical is a lot of times you'll have a guy that's already stopped before you get to your stall. Some of the pit stalls we've got are so small that you get in there cock-eyed and then another guy comes in and blocks you in. That makes it pretty difficult and makes it kind of hairy for the crewmen a little bit. It would be nice if we could have pit stalls like we had at Indy everywhere we go because it would be a lot safer for the crew members."


.on the importance of track position: "Track position has always been huge, but anymore, it's bigger than it's ever been because the competition is tougher than it's ever been. Five years ago you were racing 10 cars. Today you're racing 30 cars. The guys work awfully hard. They practice pit stops every day of the week. We're looking at fractions quicker now. Three or four years ago with an extra air gun on the left side, 16-second pit stops were good. But there are guys out there now during the race doing 14-second pit stops. Well on pit road, especially under caution, that is five or six spots so it becomes majorly important. "We re-evaluated our program - and I think everybody has - to where the guys are spending a good part of their week in the gym and out practicing their stops because that is as important as the preparation on the car is."

.how frustrating is it for a pit crew to get blocked in by another car on a small pit road?: "I don't know if it's frustrating. I think I would define that more as rage when it happens because you're trying so hard on what you' re doing that something goes wrong. But the fact is, you're going to be the guy screwing up on occasion. I think we're all professionals. We all remember that someday it's going to be us screwing up the other guy's pit stop so we try to be sensible about it. But there is a sense of rage that runs over you. You want to do better. You're trying so hard and then something goes wrong that you can't control. The biggest thing that you can do, at least for us, is we try real hard to get focused back again real quick because once it's happened, it's happened and that's one of the other things you just have to overcome."


.on the use of video to analyze pit stops: "I use video a lot. Every race I videotape every pit stop and I spend all day Monday evaluating video. We' ll watch them first after every pit stop. You can learn some things right then that might make a difference on the next stop. You might pick up little things like the driver stopping short or stopping long (in the pit box). That gives you the spacing for where the guys need to be standing on the wall to help them get to the car a little bit quicker. Those are the little things that you'll generally pick up during the race. You typically don't find any major things until you go back on Monday. "The way you find major things is you take the video from another team and you overlap on top of your video. That's where you start finding where you can make big improvements. I've got videotapes of every team in the garage area. I've looked at everybody. I've got a little chart. I pretty much know who the good guys are and who aren't. I just tape the races every week and I go back and download the pit stops right out of the tape. "I'll spend all day on Monday (looking at video). With our pit stops, I'll break them down into 15 different categories. I'll do the '20' car and the '18' car, and then I'll also go back and look at other people. If something really sticks out from another pit stop, then I'll go ahead and break it down, too."

.how much do their teams practice?: "We practice four times a week right now. That's twice for each car. Then we also work out twice a week on Mondays and Wednesdays, both teams. We've hired a trainer from the Carolina Panthers to come in to oversee the weight, the strength and conditioning and the speed and agility trials. It's gotten big."


.what is the complete role of the jack man during a pit stop?: "The jack man has a big role. In a sense, you can call him the quarterback of the pit crew. They control what's going on. The driver comes in and we start it. The driver leaves when we drop the jack. We've got to be looking at the whole pit stop itself. We've got to know what's going on everywhere. You' ve just got to pay attention and have good peripheral vision over the whole pit stop. "But by far, the jack man is not the most important guy on the pit crew. We all work together. It's seven guys over the wall that make a good pit stop. It's not just one man."

.how much does a crew member think about a pit stop as the car comes down pit road?: "I try not to think too much because if you think, you are going to slow down. You've got to keep your head open. You've got to be open-minded about it. When I see him (the car) coming down pit road I just concentrate and let the adrenalin kind of take charge of my body, and just do what I've got to do."

.on pit crew chemistry: "This pit crew is brand new. This is not the same crew that Tony (Stewart) had last year. There are only two guys that are the same. But we've gelled together really nice. We work together good. Practices are good and it's showing at the racetrack. When we have a real good, like the first Pocono race, we average in the '14s' (14 seconds). "That's something that counts. That's what actually builds the pit crew itself and the pit stop - the confidence that you have in each other. They don't worry about whether I'm going to get the car up or not, and I don't worry about whether they're going to get the tires off or not. They have confidence in me and I have confidence in them."

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Ward Burton