Saturday, June 23, 2001 Sears Point Raceway Dodge/Save Mart 350k WARD BURTON (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: Burton's Dodge Intrepid R/T qualified fifth fastest for Sunday's Dodge/Save Mart 350k, his best qualifying effort in...
Saturday, June 23, 2001
Sears Point Raceway
Dodge/Save Mart 350k
WARD BURTON (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Burton's Dodge Intrepid R/T qualified fifth fastest for Sunday's Dodge/Save Mart 350k, his best qualifying effort in eight attempts at Sears Point. His best finishes at Sears Point were 10th in '96 and again in '97. A 39-year-old driver from South Boston, Va., Burton has one top five and two top 10 finishes in 2001 and ranks 23rd in the NASCAR Winston Cup Standings. He was seventh fastest in the first Saturday morning practice session.
"I've learned to like these road races. I've learned to adapt to 'em. I had a good instructor with me last year at Watkins Glen. He helped me a whole lot, and I wish he could have been here this weekend. His name is Peter Cunningham. Boris Said hooked me up with him. He's got a good background in road course racing and helped me a lot, but we've got our cars a lot better. I think I've got better and our race cars have gotten better on the road courses the past few years.
"That first new section, I don't know what you call it, four, five or six, it's going to be very difficult for two cars to go in there side by side. It looks like a good place for the inside guy to run into the guy on the outside. It would be difficult to run two go-karts around this place side by side, much less two Winston Cup cars.
"There are some places to pass, but a guy just has to get out of shape sometimes before you can pass. Even if you've got one of the fastest cars out there and there's a slow guy in front of you, you've got to pick a place to pass. Track position is very, very important.
"We were running in the top five last year at Watkins Glen the whole race and with about 20 laps to go we didn't get one of the lugnuts on. NASCAR caught it and brought us back in. With 20 laps to go, we didn't have time to get back to the front. I don't think any other car could have touched us. We were running with some of the best cars all day, so track position means everything on a road course.
"I'd say some people can beat Jeff Gordon here Sunday. He can beat himself, too. They've got everything going for themselves right now. I can remember last year looking at him at Rockingham, and I could see the stress in Jeff's face. He knew his car wasn't like it is now. Even a guy with his reputation and talent can't get the job done if the car is not under him. Now he's got the car back under him every week, and he's doing a great job.
"I've got to stay on the race track and have some decent luck and hope people stop running over my back bumper. I've had it happen at Daytona. Mark hit me at Dover and California. I got run over last week at Pocono. If people will stop running over me, I'll be fine. I've got to drive smart, stay on the race track and think about the big picture and hope I don't get run over and caught up in somebody else's mistake.
"We've got to get back on track and get some top 10 finishes. We just need a solid run. We need to work hard and be there at the end of the race and get a decent finish. Tommy (crew chief Baldwin) and I need to work hard together and keep the team pumped up. We need to address pit stops and get this team back to where we had it at one time.
"We haven't had any racing luck at all this year, starting with the first race. The only time I saw the 4 car at Daytona we were in a wreck. We would have been leading in the next two or three laps. There have been some times this season we've had to regroup to catch up to the new car and the new tire. I think now we've finally done that. It's a little bit late, but in the big picture, we've got to develop this Dodge and we've got to develop this team to be a force for next year. That's what we're really focusing on.
"Our car really handled good at Daytona in February. We were fast, but it was really handling. We were a lot freer through the corners than a lot of cars I was around. The chassis just wasn't bogging the motor down that much, but we are excited to be going back there in a couple of weeks. I think NASCAR was wrong to put the extra roof flap on us, but that's what we've got to live with. We had one of the strongest cars down there in February, but it was the 40 car and myself. It wasn't every Dodge in the top five. We had a great car, but now we're punching such a big hole in the air that we're just asking the guys to come up behind us so they can go around us. That's what we saw at Talladega.
"I think the Dodge needs a kick out on the bottom of the nose, something to give us more front downforce. You can look at the Chevrolets and tell it's got a lot of front downforce.
"We haven't got the results we should have had this season, but since Charlotte we have run a lot better and learned an awful lot about the race car. We learned from some of the test sessions we did, we should have done them months earlier to identify some of the problems. At least now, we've got a better direction than we did. If you take the Daytonas, Dovers, Poconos and California out of it where we were running well and got crashed, we wouldn't look as bad in the points as we do.
"We're going to focus really hard on the second half of the season and try to get this Caterpillar team back where it needs to be. Ever since our Ch arlotte test we've made a lot of progress. We had a top-10 at Charlotte, a 14th at Dover with a wrecked car, we were passing the second-place car at Michigan with about 15 laps to go and had a mechanical failure. We struggled a little bit last week at Pocono, but we were starting to make it better and got in a wreck. We just haven't been able to capitalize on the end results.
"Bill Davis (car owner) will be coming back to Daytona, and it'll be good to see him. The big thing about this race team is that we didn't have to have him here.
"Hopefully we'll have a good run Sunday and be able to enjoy our last week off before Daytona and that 20-race stretch. We've learned a lot already. I've learned I can't be too aggressive with the new tire and make it go fast. I could with some of the tires we used in the past, but I can't seem to make the car stay under me and keep it consistent hustling around a whole lot now. We've seen that everywhere. The harder you drive, the slower you go. That's what changed the guys that were running in the middle of the pack at the beginning of the year. The guys that eased up and started being real careful with the car couldn't run with the guys who drove it hard into the corners and got back on the gas quick. You just can't do that anymore. It took the racing out of the real hard racers. That's something I've had to adapt to a lot, and I'm still doing it. The 24 anywhere is real smooth. He can get to the throttle quick and use a lot of throttle, too. It'll be interesting to see Sunday. I just want to be up there so I can see it.^Ô
DORSEY SCHROEDER (No. 01 Cingular Wireless Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Schroeder, 19th fastest in Saturday morning's first practice, will start 36th in Sunday's 43-car field and his No. 01 Cingular Wireless Dodge Intrepid R/T will be one of nine cars pitting on Gilligan's Island. The road racing experts discusses Sunday's strategy.
"I know why we ended up where we did in qualifying, and thank goodness we made it in. That was a scary deal. We had been running really good. I got up into turn one and the car bottomed out and skidded up the hill. We were in trouble. We know now where we went wrong.
"We were joking about all the cars pitting over there in Gilligan's Island. That's probably the fastest group they've ever had over there. Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin and Jarrett and me and Kurt Busch and Boris Said. I don't know how big of a disadvantage it'll be. If we're pitting under yellow, it won't be too bad. They're giving us an 18-second penalty and that's too much. We're starting so far in the back, that might make it even easier. We can ride things out and take some risks and do some stuff. I think the car will be quick enough, and I'll do like I do and try to get to the end.
"I like the new change they made, the new 90. You still can't pass there. It's too fast, but I like it from a driver's standpoint. It's a neat little turn, but I don't think it's a passing turn. You don't slow down that much for it. You run down there in third gear and brake and you shoot back out of there. If you tried to pass, it'd probably mess you up coming to the back esses. That's really where you've got to be fast. It didn't do what they wanted it to, I don't think, but it's entertaining from a driver's standpoint.
"The two primary places to pass are getting into turn seven and 11, underbraking. Those are the two best places. You can get under somebody in turn one, but it's a bit tenuous getting up there side by side. You don't want to make a mistake. The run down to three, believe it or not, you can get in position in there. At the top of the crest of the hill where everybody used to bump onto two wheels, if a guy hits the curb and has to life a little bit, you can get past him there. You've got to have the patience here, that's for sure. This is a tough place for these big cars. They're sliding around more than I've ever felt. Maybe it's the hard tire. Maybe it's the hard surface of the race track, but everybody is doing a good job. There's a lot of sliding going on.
"I tested here a couple of years ago with Rusty and Jeremy Mayfield and Kenny Irwin. We ran some different stuff, and the track was in a different configuration. It didn't have that one turn, but the turn doesn't make it slippery. It's the hard tire. Everybody is sliding around a lot. It's fun to do, but you're on a knife's edge all the time.
"I'm more of a smooth-type guy. Boris is an aggressive road racer. Ron Fellows is pretty smooth. He's got a lot of confidence, and he'll get aggressive if he needs to. I think I'm going to run like I would a normal road race. I'm in the back. I'm going to be aggressive at the start and try to pick up some positions, as many as I can right away when the guys aren't ready for it yet. Then when it gets hard, I'll just slide in there and ride for awhile. If attrition happens, it happens. We'll try to take advantage of cautions. It's a gambling game nowadays with the cars like this. How aggressive can you be for how long and not get caught out?
"Once a car breaks loose, like it did with me the other day in turn one, you can't do anything. You've got to have a lot of patience. It doesn't come right back to you. If you get a slide going, you can't correct it right away. It takes a little bit longer to slow down, so you've got to leave a little bit more margin of error knowing that. We've got some real fast cars around us, and if we don't all beat each other into submission right away and work together, we can make our way to the front. Being out there on the island, we need to play this smart."