WARD BURTON (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: Burton, a 40-year-old driver from South Boston, Va., will take a brand new Dodge Intrepid R/T to Atlanta for Sunday's race. Burton finished third in last year's season finale...
WARD BURTON (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: Burton, a 40-year-old driver from South Boston, Va., will take a brand new Dodge Intrepid R/T to Atlanta for Sunday's race. Burton finished third in last year's season finale behind Jerry Nadeau and Dale Earnhardt. Burton finished 13th last Sunday at Homestead and ranks 14th in the NASCAR Winston Cup Standings. He's had three top-10 finishes in the last six races, two 13ths and a 21st. In that span, he's moved from 20th to 14th in the standings. Burton discusses last Sunday's pit road accident at Homestead, his season and the outlook for 2002 in his second year behind the Bill Davis Racing Dodge Intrepid R/T. "I knew it was two wide on the outside of me on pit road because I saw the 24 car pull out. When the jack dropped, I went on cue. I didn't know the 19 had speeded up and got beside the 24. We made contact and it sent my car straight into the 28. There was just not enough room. At a place like that, some cars get two tires and some get four, and that really jams up pit road. I watched the tape and it was an unfortunate incident. It was really nobody's fault. It was just unfortunate the 28 was still changing tires on the right side, and it was really fortunate no one got pinned in and hurt real bad. "I don't know if you'll see it by Atlanta, but I've talked to Jim Hunter and NASCAR is looking at (crew helmets and) other safety measures, too. Fans get too close in the pits, and I think you're going to see some substantial changes in the area of safety soon. We need to take any action we can to keep the crew members safe. There's potential danger for fans there, too, so we need to keep them safe. "People are excited to be there in the pits. They really look forward to it, but like at Rockingham two years ago with the fire in the pits. Sometimes they get too close. Nothing positive about the accident at Homestead, but hopefully it will educate us and protect the participants. I'm very confident that NASCAR will make some changes. "I'm excited about going to Atlanta. We're going to take a new car and we're looking forward to the race, but I have to stop and think twice that we've got another race after that. That doesn't feel normal at all having another track after Atlanta. I think the participants, sponsors, fans, everybody is ready for a break. The schedule being like it is brings out the best and worst in people. "I'm ready to sit around with my family on Friday and decide what we're going to do for the weekend. We've only had three weekends off all season. I say the schedule brings out the best in people because it tests your true character. It pushes you to the edge. You learn who your friends are. You come together like a family. I was just as upset Sunday when I hit those 28 guys as I would have been if it had been my own crew. "It was kind of like riding down the road and having someone step out in front of you. Whether it had been someone on the 28 crew of my crew. They're all good people, and they've all got families to protect. Jeff (younger brother) talked to me after the race Sunday and told me it wasn't my fault. I wasn't blaming myself, but I didn't know how severe the injuries were, whether they were life threatening or not. Their conditions were in the back of my mind throughout the rest of the race. "I talked to Mike Helton and Gary Nelson after the race, and Fatback (28 crew chief) and Robert and Doug Yates and Ricky Rudd and his wife at the hospital. Max Helton was there with MRO, and Dale Beaver (MRO) kept calling my wife and informing her of what I was doing. Bobby (Burrell) was sleeping when I was there, but they told me his second CAT scan was better than the first. Then we found out yesterday that he woke up and was talking and that he should fully heal. "Racers have a way of blocking out all the other things. We put some sticker tires on on the last pit stop and finished 13th with a damaged car, so we salvaged the day a little. "We've improved a lot this season. I think our aero is a lot better and our motors are better. I'm better adjusted to the new Goodyear tires, and so is the team. Everybody is jelling and working on the same page, and we're excited about next season. We'll be ready to rock next year. "We struggled at Rockingham in the spring and we went back in the fall and had a top five car. That's an example of where we started and where we are now. I think we're more focused on the cars, and the one-motor rule should be the only thing new we have to deal with next year, but everyone is going to have to deal with that. It's to be seen how much hassle that's going to cause, but Terry Elledge is a great motor man. He'll work hard on it. We've had some great engines this season, and we've had only one motor failure. "I've been wrecked eight times this year, and that's pretty much something that's out of your control. Mark Martin, my brother, Dale Jarrett, Jerry Nadeau and some other drivers have wrecked me this year. They all call and apologize the next day, but for whatever reason, I've been in the wrong spot at the wrong time this season, and that's why we've got so many DNFs. If we could have half of those DNFs back and finish where we were running before we got wrecked, we'd be a solid top-10 team right now. "A lot of the time, points are out of your control. It's the same with accident. I'm proud of my group of guys, and I'm proud of the work they've done and how the Dodge people have helped us all season. I can live with a top 15 finish in the points this year because I know we can be back in the top 10 next season."
DODGE GARAGE NOTES -- In the March race at Atlanta, Dave Blaney led 70 laps and dominated much of the event in his No. 93 Amoco Dodge Intrepid R/T before being hobbled after two lug nuts were left loose on a tire during a pit stop late in the event, causing the wheel to fall off and placing him two laps down after pitting for repairs. In six career NASCAR starts at Atlanta (four Winston Cup and two Busch), Blaney has never qualified out of the top-10, including a then-track record pole position for the Busch Series race in March, 1999. Entering Atlanta, Blaney ranks 23rd in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series point standings, trailing two-time WC champion Terry Labonte by only three points with two races remaining in the 2001 season. In addition to the No. 22 and No. 93 BDR Dodges, Bill Davis Racing will also enter the No. 23 Hills Brothers Dodge for the first time at AMS, with future driver Hut Stricklin making his first start for BDR. Philippe Lopez, also slated to be Stricklin's crew chief in 2002, will move over to the No. 23 at AMS along with Car Chief Jimmy Penland. Robert "Bootie" Barker, crew chief for the No. 23 Jani-King Pontiac and Busch Series rookie Scott Wimmer at BDR this season, will guide the fortunes for Blaney and the No. 93 Amoco/Siemens Dodge at Atlanta..... Sterling Marlin and the No. 40 Chip Ganassi Racing Team with Felix Sabates, will race chassis No. 115 at Atlanta on Sunday. The No. 40 Coors Light Dodge has recorded six top five finishes in six starts with two victories. Marlin parked 115 in victory lane at Michigan and Charlotte, finished third with it in the first race this season at Michigan, second in the Brickyard 400 and fifth at Kansas and Homestead.