BUSCH: Dave Blaney indy preview

HIGH POINT, NC -- Bill Davis has emphasized from the start of Dave Blaney's first journey into stock-car competition in 1998 that the parameters of his driver's progress were going to be measured specifically on the team's own internal scale.

HIGH POINT, NC -- Bill Davis has emphasized from the start of Dave Blaney's first journey into stock-car competition in 1998 that the parameters of his driver's progress were going to be measured specifically on the team's own internal scale. When his graduation from a brief NASCAR Busch Series schooling placed Blaney in one of the deepest classes of Winston Cup rookies, Davis reiterated that patience should be the perspective for anyone wanting to chart the future of the 1995 World of Outlaws champion, not the stellar first-year numbers just posted by Tony Stewart or the pending rookie excellence of Blaney's classmates Matt Kenseth or Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

And when he determined that the young #93 Amoco/Siemens team had reached a performance plateau at mid-season, Davis was assessing what was necessary to help Blaney shorten his extensive learning curve when a dramatic sequence of events helped the first-year team and driver make a substantial move forward almost overnight.

The addition of new Crew Chief Doug Randolph last week brought immediate dividends for Blaney and Amoco Ultimate Team 93, producing a career-high 18th-place finish and a sparkling overall weekend performance for the Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway. Randolph -- car chief for the #22 Caterpillar/Polaris team at Bill Davis Racing for the past 18 months -- replaced Gil Martin, who resigned on July 17 after almost three seasons as crew chief for the Amoco program.

After enjoying solid first-day practice sessions as Randolph got acclimated to his new situation, Blaney qualified the #93 Amoco/Siemens Pontiac in 18th-place with a speed over a full second faster than his initial visit to Pocono for the first NASCAR Winston Cup Series race there last month. Among the 2000 Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year candidates, only Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (15th) qualified higher.

In the 200-lap event, Blaney never ventured far from the lead-pack, racing as high as third at mid-race before settling in the mid-teens for the remainder of his 24th career Winston Cup start. He faded to 18th in the event's final 50 miles after Randolph gambled on a two-tire pit stop in the race's final stages. Blaney -- whose previous best WC finish was 20th at Atlanta this spring -- joined fellow Raybestos rookies Matt Kenseth (5th) and Earnhardt (13th) among the lead-lap finishers behind race-winner Rusty Wallace.=20

"Our first weekend with Doug was great, plain and simple," said Blaney. "On Friday, the car was close to on the money from the start and we just tweaked a little bit here and there and jumped up a full second and 17 spots in qualifying from the first race at Pocono in June.=20

"In the race, I got the guys headed in the wrong direction on the car a few times but it was a pretty encouraging weekend overall. Just as we did in the Busch Series at the start, we were a lot better the second time around at every case and that was the way it was at Pocono, too. I'm hoping that will also be the case at Indianapolis, where we ran really well (started 20th, finished 28th) last year in only my third start."

For Randolph, the chance to make his debut as a NASCAR Winston Cup Series crew chief after 18 months in the Bill Davis Racing organization (and specifically Baldwin and the #22 Cat team) contributed to the seamless transition the #93 Amoco team made with their new leader.

"It's obviously a great opportunity that Bill and Gail Davis have given me and our first weekend was a whole lot smoother that I thought it would be," said Randolph, who worked four years each with car owners Junior Johnson and Larry Hendrick before joining BDR in February, 1999. "I worked really well with Tommy and we put some systems in place on the #22 car that have worked good for us. Our whole plan is to work together with both cars as a solid team, to share information between the two and put the same systems in place with the Amoco team.

"Tommy and I worked together for a long time and that makes it a lot easier to share. He knows what I'm thinking about the half the time without even asking and I am the same way with him. The success he's had in two years with Ward and the Cat team is testimony to what he can do."

Blaney and the #93 Amoco/Siemens team remains 33rd in the WC team point standings after Pocono but closed the gap (now 99 points) to 32nd-place Elliott Sadler and the fabled #21 Wood Brothers team entering the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway next week. In the NASCAR Winston Cup driver point standings, Blaney trails Sadler -- the 1999 Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year runner-up -- by 105 points and ranks 32nd among active drivers, 153 points behind 30th-place Bobby Hamilton.=20

After a slow start to his third-ever stock-car season, Blaney has now completed 99.3% of all miles in his last six starts (all but 10 of 1,139 laps) dating back to the Michigan race on June 11. He ranks third among all first-year WC drivers for the season in rookie points, average-start and average-finish, laps-completed percentage as well as in his overall points ranking, trailing only Kenseth and Earnhardt, Jr. in each category.

With first-round qualifying efforts in half of his 18 starts and an average-start of 23.83, Blaney and his Amoco/Siemens team are one of only 13 teams in 2000 to use one or fewer provisional starting spots, joining among others points leader Bobby Labonte, points runner-up Dale Jarrett, third-place Dale Earnhardt and son Dale, Jr. as well as three-time Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon. Five drivers (rookies Mike Bliss and Ed Berrier as well as veterans Kyle Petty, Geoffrey Bodine and Darrell Waltrip) will enter prestigious Brickyard 400 weekend without a provisional starting option.

In his first experience with a NASCAR Winston Cup Series rookie in 1993, first-year WC owner Davis struggled with current points-leader Labonte, ranking in the mid-20's throughout the first two-thirds of the year before a late-season surge placed Labonte 19th in the overall WC points standings five positions behind eventual 1993 rookie-of-the-year Jeff Gordon. While his expectations for Blaney and the #93 Amoco/Siemens team were modest for 2000, the prospect for steadier progress now seems likely with Randolph's immediate impact on Blaney and the young team.

"What we're all looking for now is some progression with the whole two-car chemistry," said Randolph. "That will help Dave with his lack of experience as much as anything. Bill Davis, all the people he's got working for him, and everybody at the shop are behind me and there to support me and this team. It's obvious we've got good motors and good cars and good equipment. It's up to me and Dave and the guys to put it together a little differently and move forward.=20

"In talking to Dave about what our goals should be right now, we're trying to be realistic here and start somewhere so we're looking at 20th-place as a good watermark for qualifying and for the race. Once we can reach some consistency with that, we can look to grow and learn from there, and progress from there. Bill hasn't put any unrealistic goals on us. He just wants us to show some progression from where the team is now. That's certainly not asking too much."=20

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Series NASCAR XFINITY
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Bobby Hamilton , Darrell Waltrip , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Geoffrey Bodine , Kyle Petty , Ed Berrier , Junior Johnson , Elliott Sadler , Dave Blaney
Teams Bill Davis Racing