Starting Over

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Sometimes, you just need a fresh start. Sometimes, no matter what you do, you can’t make things work.

Dave Blaney appears to have what it takes to be a winner on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. Like Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, he comes from a successful open-wheel background. Blaney won the 1995 World of Outlaws championship and was Sprint Car Driver of the Year that season.

After moving to stock cars, Blaney has shown some speed along the road to the major leagues. He won four poles in the Busch Series in 1999 and finished seventh in the final points standings despite missing a race to make a Winston Cup show.

Blaney is articulate, bright and comes from a racing family. By the time he moved to Winston Cup in 2000, he was ready. There wasn’t much pressure, as he was the No. 2 driver at Bill Davis Racing behind Ward Burton.

His rookie season was a learning experience, as was 2001, when BDR switched to Dodge. Yes, Burton struggled, too, but he also won a race. Every time Blaney seemed ready to break through, though, something happened.

The first race at Atlanta was a prime example. Blaney may have had the strongest car, leading 60 of the first 217 laps. But he had a tire shred, causing body damage and the loss of several laps. Was it Blaney’s fault? Nope. Did he suffer the consequences? Yes he did.

Late in the season, sponsor Amoco announced it wasn’t coming back for 2002. Again, that wasn’t Blaney’s fault, but he bared the brunt of the decision. Blaney waited as long as he could, but he had to bolt for another team. Jasper Motorsports had a sponsor but needed a driver, so Blaney packed his driving suit and headed to the No. 77 team.

Since he left, BDR got a sponsor and a driver, but Blaney couldn’t wait. Maybe it was the best decision he ever made.

“I’ve been looking forward to this,” Blaney said. “We’ve got maybe two or three more tests before we start racing, so we’re gonna give ourselves a little time to get to know each other and run together. I’m looking forward to this year a great deal.”

Of course, Blaney is going to put a positive spin on his move. The cynic could say Blaney hasn’t shown much in his two seasons in Winston Cup, with no poles, no victories and no top-five finishes.

And the cynic would also say Jasper hasn’t done much, either. In Doug Bawel’s seven years as a Winston Cup owner, he has one pole, no victories and three top-five finishes. Is Blaney and Jasper a match made in purgatory?

Perhaps, but perhaps it’s just what the two entities need. Jasper Motorsports has some promise, as Pressley and road-course driver Boris Said made every race in 2001. Pressley and the team showed flashes of brilliance, including a strong second-place run at Chicagoland Speedway. Pressley also finished seventh at Kansas and Hew Hampshire, and ninth at Pocono.

Jasper has a good young crew chief in Ryan Pemberton and a strong engine deal with Penske Engines. It’s a single-car team without an overabundance of money, but Jasper seems to be doing the best it can.

So maybe Blaney is just what Jasper needs. And vice versa.

“I think it’s going good,” Blaney said. “I really like Ryan and the whole team. That part of it is no problem, but we just need a little bit more speed and we’ll be fine. We’re making some small gains, but we need a pretty big chunk here to get caught up.”

Blaney is talking about Daytona testing, which didn’t go so well last week. Blaney was in the bottom five in both drafting and non-drafting speeds in the three-day session last week, but Blaney isn’t too worried.

“All you’re doing here is throwing different things at the car to see if you can find a little speed for qualifying,” Blaney said. “That’s really all you’re doing. The driver isn’t much of a part of things here, so there’s not much to work on except mechanical things.

“I’ve been here a few years now and we’re just trying to zero in on what will help this race car.”

The race car is different this year for Blaney. Last year was the new Dodge Intrepid, and now he has to get used to a Ford Taurus, a bit of an older car.

But Blaney said there are more important things to get used to than a race car.

“I ran the Dodges all of last year, and I think that’s pretty close to what the Fords are,” Blaney said. “I don’t think they’re far off, so I don’t really expect much change. I think there will be more changes within the team and working with Ryan than there will be in the makes of cars.”

Changes. Sometimes they are for the best. Time will tell whether Blaney’s move to Jasper is a good one or not. At least it’s a fresh start.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2000

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