Bill Davis Racing/Scott Wimmer-- ...
Bill Davis Racing/Scott Wimmer--#23 Jani-King Pontiac
HIGH POINT, NC -- In the flooded field of Busch Series first-year drivers, Scott Wimmer had provided only a steady stream of ripples before last weekend's third-place finish in the inaugural NASCAR race at Nashville Superspeedway.
Great expectations have surrounded fellow rookie Greg Biffle -- the eventual Music City race-winner -- since stepping out of the 2000 Craftsman Truck Series championship ride and into the driver's seat of the most successful Busch Series program in history. Like fellow Bill Davis Racing teammate Dave Blaney in his rookie Winston Cup season with stars-in-waiting Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., the soft-spoken Wimmer has been over-shadowed by the inevitability of Biffle's projected first-year accomplishments.
While allowing that the driver's quiet nature and subtle on-track presence might have allowed the #23 Jani-King team to sneak into the top-ten in points after eight races, Crew Chief "Bootie" Barker approaches his first full season in his position with none of the same reserve. The former shock/chassis specialist for both the #22 Caterpillar/BDR team and Ward Burton as well as the #24 Hendrick Motorsports team and driver Jeff Gordon, Barker believes his young team and driver are contenders now, not in the future.
"I don't feel any differently now than I did at the start of the year and I believed then that we could be a championship contender and race for the win every single weekend," said Barker, whose team is tied for ninth -- 78 points behind fifth-place Mike McLaughlin entering this weekend's race at Talladega Superspeedway. " I don't want this to sound wrong but I want our crew and our driver to go into every weekend thinking that a win is what we're there for. And I believe we've made great strides toward that mindset."
And while his third-place finish at Nashville was his first top-ten finish of the 2001 season, Wimmer has been competitive in every race, starting in the top-ten in half the races and posting five finishes between 11th and 15th before last weekend. In the remaining starts at Rockingham (31st) and Bristol (29th), Wimmer ran in the top-ten throughout the race at NCS before cutting a tire in the final 15 miles and was collected in an eight-car wreck at BMS while working his way through the field with what Barker called "probably the best car we've had all season".
"Scott's been excellent, especially for a guy who has had only 12 NASCAR races under his belt total," said Barker, whose cars won five races at four tracks during his 15-month tenure with three-time Winston Cup champion Gordon and the #24 Hendrick team before returning to BDR last September. "He never seen most of these tracks but I can tell him what to look for or the general feel and he's able to identify those 'touch' or 'feel' elements once he gets going on the track.
"We can look at testing data from Dave or Ward (Burton), then he'll watch other cars a while much like Dave did when he came over from sprint cars, and then go identify the most efficient line in a pretty short time. That's when we can really start working on changes to the car. We've had some other things work against us during the races that have certainly cost us spots, like our pit work, but it's a young team and they realize where and how much they need to improve to be a factor every week. And they're up to it.
"(Head Engine Builder) Brad Thrower's motors are second to none out here and he's finally caught up after moving into a brand new complex for the Busch Series engine development over the winter. That will become more apparent as we get into the season. And we had a new aerodynamic package that we tried last week that worked well and gave us a definite new direction to go. Being a step-child of General Motors (with the BDR WC cars making the transition to Dodge for 2001), we get no wind-tunnel time at all so we have to be creative in those areas, maybe more so than other front-running teams."
Leading 2001 Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year contender Biffle -- currently third in the Busch Series standings -- stepped into a heralded program at Roush Racing within which Mark Martin became the all-time Busch Series winner (45) and the second-ranked driver in career pole positions (27). In 75 career starts in his Roush Racing CTS entry, Biffle won the series top-rookie honors in 1998 and then won 14 of 29 CTS races in 1999-2000, when he finished as runner-up and champion, respectively, of one of NASCAR's top series.
Wimmer, who began racing stock cars at age 17 in his native Wisconsin, won Late Model Stock titles at storied short tracks such as Slinger, Golden Sands, Madison and Wisconsin Dells and was the top rookie in the Hooters Cup Series in 1998. Still, his successes in the American Speed Association (ASA) last season (back-to-back wins in April, 11th in points) and four starts for BDR late in the year leave a considerable experience void between Wimmer and Biffle, who join Jamie McMurray (15th) and Tim Sauter (19th) in the top-20 in the Busch Series standings entering the season's second restrictor-plate race.
Barker's considerable experience has translated into a quick working, at-track dialogue with Wimmer, something both consider critical to the time-efficiency necessary to get their car ready to race during ever-shrinking practice times at tracks foreign to the rookie driver. And working from a wheelchair in the frenetic NASCAR garage area, Barker has found the clear communication with his driver has also worked against him, perhaps as much as his inability to survey his car from atop the team transporter or pitbox during practice and race conditions.
"It's really a double-edged sword because he gives good feedback on the questions I ask but I can't get in the window of the car and talk with him after a practice run like other crew chiefs so everything we say to each other is done over the radio," said Barker, a native of Halifax, VA. "All our guys can hear everything we're working on and they learn a lot from all the exchanges. Unfortunately, everyone else in the garage can hear all that, too, so we're looking at some things we can do to change that. It's a small price to pay for working with a young driver I connect with so well and who's got such a big future. A lot of other crew chiefs in both (WC and BGN) garages wish they had the same relationship."
**NOTE: JANI-KING -- the world's largest commercial cleaning franchise company -- has extended its relationship with Scott Wimmer and the #23 Bill Davis Racing Pontiac team, continuing their sponsorship which began at Daytona in February.
As with the initial agreement, Car Owner Davis emphasized that, while he is "happy Jani-King is continuing their support", that he will continue to look for a long-term primary sponsor that is interested in growing with the team toward the Winston Cup Series.
Jani-King -- the industry leader in franchised commercial cleaning includes -- more than 8,000 franchise owners in 16 countries worldwide. With more than 100 regional offices, Jani-King contracts commercial cleaning services with work performed by franchised owners who own and operate their own businesses.
In January, Entrepreneur Magazine named Jani-King in the top-ten among it's annual Franchise 500, an elite group which also includes McDonald's, Subway and Mail Boxes, Etc. The magazine's 22nd annual poll also named Jani-King the #1 low-investment franchise, the sixth-fastest growing franchise company and first among commercial cleaning franchise companies for the 14th time since 1986.