WARD BURTON (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid R/T) Burton, a 39-year-old driver from South Boston, Va., finished 11th last week at Atlanta, his fifth straight finish of 11th or better at Atlanta. It was his best finish of the season,...
WARD BURTON (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid R/T) Burton, a 39-year-old driver from South Boston, Va., finished 11th last week at Atlanta, his fifth straight finish of 11th or better at Atlanta. It was his best finish of the season, allowing him to jump six spots in the NASCAR Winston Cup Standings. Burton is tied for 20th, 96 points behind fifth-place Michael Waltrip and 200 points behind leader Jeff Gordon. Burton is the defending champion of the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400. He led five times for 188 of 293 laps at Darlington last year en route to a 1.42-second victory over Dale Jarrett. Burton finished sixth last year in the Pepsi Southern 500 at Darlington and second behind his brother, Jeff, in the 1999 Pepsi Southern 500. Burton finished ninth in the '99 standings and 10th last season for car owner Bill Davis. Burton, who has driven for Davis since 1995, will make his 219th career start on Sunday at Darlington.
"We were awfully good at Darlington last year," Burton said. "Tommy (crew chief Baldwin) and the guys did a wonderful job with the car. We had been heading in the right direction before Darlington, but we seemed to put it all together down there last year. We had a good lead in the fall race down there, too, but the rain took that away. I really like Darlington. A lot of guys don't like it, and that's where I've got them beat before we go. "Darlington is a place where you can have the best handling car on the track and be walking away with the race and then smack the wall and ruin your day. Your car can be working well there, and it's still a handful. Even when your car is handling right at Darlington, it won't be working as good as the cars did last week at Atlanta. You're still going to slide the nose or the nose is going to push or the rear is going to be loose. You just want to get the car the best you can so you'll be running up front when the tires wear off. "I think the spring tire we had there last year was better than the fall tire. We hit on something midway in the fall race and our car started working better, but I think the new tires we're running this year will be more like the tires we had there last fall than last spring. The 93 car (teammate Dave Blaney, driver of the No. 93 Amoco Ultimate Dodge Intrepid R/T) tested there and Doug (crew chief Randolph) and Tommy have been talking. We're just getting to the stage where the teams can pass along information from the tests and help the other team. Dave is testing at Bristol today, and he had a real good car last week at Atlanta. Dave always runs well at Atlanta. "We learned some things in practice last week at Atlanta that helped us in the race, and we learned some more things in the race. We've just got to keep adjusting the car, and I've got to keep adjusting my driving style. The team has been adjusting, too. We've all got to change a little bit and get the qualities we need to get the most out of the new tire. I really think the tire has presented us the biggest problem. I've always driven as hard as I could on every lap, and driven as deep in the corners as I could on every lap. I've had to change a little of that. We've been regrouping and discussing things among our team and with outside people, too. I'm willing to do whatever it takes to help me get better. We've got to learn together and make the car better.
"I've been at the shop today working on the seat. I'm still not going to wear the HANS device at Darlington. I'd have to alter the seat in a big way to run the HANS. I'm so small that I fit close in the seat and the HANS pushes my head forward. We've got an expert coming in next week to look at the seat and show us some crash tests. We need to know what's right and what's wrong and make changes based on that. It'll be nice to get something or somebody to say do this here and do this there or don't do this and don't do that. There's so much out there right now. It's hard to digest it all. We're not going to take the safety issue in our own hands, because I'm sure some people out there know more about it than we do. People are more educated about it than I am.
"I don't think anybody has a safer cockpit than I've got. Brian Butler came to the shop twice last year, and we were doing a lot of things before Daytona, before the latest tragedy with Dale Earnhardt. We had been working hard in the safety direction, and we're going to keep working on it.
"We're going to keep working on getting the car better, too. We made progress at Atlanta. We got a little behind changing over to the Dodge and the new tires. We were thrown a little curveball, but we're going to keep working and straighten it out.
"I've always been comfortable with the Dodge. I really don't think the problem has been related to the car. We've just missed it a little bit. We haven't given the car what the car wants. We just haven't figured it all out, but we're headed in the right direction.
"I'd say Darlington would be a perfect place for our luck to change. I'm very excited about racing at Darlington. It would be nice to be the first Dodge team to win, and to park that Dodge in victory lane at Darlington in the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 would really be special. Good things seem to happen for us at Darlington. We led both races there last year, and we managed to capitalize on one of them. Darlington has been a good track for the Cat team. Hopefully, it'll continue to be a good track for us.
"We've got a lot of racing left this season. We've got a couple of new tracks and we've still got to figure out a few things at some of the old tracks with this new tire. Darlington is a tough track on tires, no matter what kind of tire. We'll just have to get down there this weekend and work hard to get things worked out. It's important to start up front, so we're hoping for a good qualifying effort on Saturday and a good, safe run on Sunday. Our Dodge was capable of winning at Daytona, and Sterling has had a car capable of winning a couple of times this season. Dave Blaney had the car to beat last week, so we've just got to put it all together, stay out of trouble and hope for the best. At least the Dodges are knocking on the door."