Burton hopes to build on strong foundation By Matthew Leach CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Jan. 13, 1999) Ward Burton has a background in construction, and his new sponsor is a heavy equipment manufacturer. So he and his No. 22 Bill Davis Racing team...
Burton hopes to build on strong foundation By Matthew Leach
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Jan. 13, 1999) Ward Burton has a background in construction, and his new sponsor is a heavy equipment manufacturer. So he and his No. 22 Bill Davis Racing team ought to know a thing or two about laying the foundation for a successful operation.
And Burton hopes that's exactly what he's done entering the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season. The man many have pegged to have a breakout season in '99 believes the time is right for him to have the best year of his career. When Burton met the press Friday as part of the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour presented by UAW-GM Motorsports, he spoke with enthusiasm and confidence that were hard to miss.
"When I go to the shop," Burton said, "I leave there with smiles on my face. I see that everybody is so focused. Not only focused on what that goal is, but how we're getting there, with the same direction."
Burton went winless in 1998 for the third straight season, but in many ways the year shaped up as his best to date. The Virginia native finished a career-best 16th in the final standings, taking home $1.4 million in prize money, a personal high. He also won two Bud Poles, after entering the year with a total of three in his career.
Still, the older of the racing Burton brothers believes he could have done more last year, and believes he can do much more this year.
"I think we can get back in the winner's circle easily," Burton said. "We've got to capitalize on the days when we're capable of winning. I feel like I've given two or three or four races away each year. I already see a huge stride. We just need to build on that weakness and improve our strengths. I think this team is capable of getting back to victory circle and getting in the top-10 in points."
Burton credits two main sources for his optimism, which is nearly bubbling over: crew chief Tom Baldwin, who replaced Chris Hussey late in '98, and new primary sponsor Caterpillar. He believes the addition of those two key players, combined with his long-time relationship with car owner Bill Davis and his development as a driver, form the rock on which a winning race team can and will be built.
He's especially delighted with Baldwin, who guided the No. 22 to an outstanding stretch run last year, including six top-15 showings and an average finish of 12.1 over the final seven races. Baldwin hails from the Northeast and modified racing, but there's no communication gap between driver and crew chief.
"The biggest change that happened for myself and the Bill Davis team last year," Burton said, "was the addition of Tommy Baldwin. That was about seven races from the end. We actually climbed from about 23rd in the points to 16th. I thought that was a big climb -- I wasn't even sure we were gonna be able to make the top-20. With Tommy, he brought a lot of people into the organization. We had brand new cars sitting there, he didn't like them, he cut the body off of them.
"I think the relationship that he and I have got is gonna be really important. You know, we can't accomplish anything, whether it be on the race track or the other kinds of business, if everybody's not working toward the same goal. Tommy and I are really focused. He believes in me as a driver, I believe in him as a crew chief and chassis expert."
One thing that's not changing for Burton is the man signing his paycheck. He's entering his fourth full season with Bill Davis Racing, and with each year he's improved in the final points rundown -- from 33rd in 1996 to 24th in '97 to 16th in '98. If he keeps that pace up, owner and driver will be back in the top-10.
"Bill and I have got a good relationship," Burton said. "I think that it's getting ready to pay off, me being loyal to Bill and Bill being loyal to me. There have been a lot of other opportunities, I could have done something else. But I think that we're really close to reaping the benefits of being loyal to each other. I see this '99 season being a big breakthrough for myself, Bill and Caterpillar.
"If we do what we're capable of doing, we easily could be in the top-10. I'm not putting pressure on myself to be in the top-10, but I just think that's a fact. If we do what we're capable of doing, we can do that. "
Source: NASCAR Online