Countdown To New York: No 10

There just aren’t a lot of drivers in the Winston Cup Series cut from the same mold as Ward Burton. But then again, there aren’t many at NASCAR’s top level to have camped out in the wilderness for months at a time like he has.

Burton, a 39-year-old father of two from rural Southern Virginia, is a figure many in the Winston Cup garage area look up to because of the image he portrays - what you see is what you get.

If there is one thing that sticks out with Burton, it would have to be his slow Southern drawl. Even Burton’s younger brother, Jeff, doesn’t carry the same country twang.

Tommy Baldwin, the crew chief on Burton’s No. 22 Bill Davis Racing team, has even joked that he is perhaps the only person that can understand what is being said by Burton sometimes.

But in a sport where drivers seem to be tied down with corporate restraints to keep a clean image, Burton is a cut unlike the rest. And many fans love him for that.

The speech of Ward Burton has drawn some jokes and attention, but in 2000 he let his on-track actions do the talking by coming home 10th in the final Winston Cup points standings.

“We had the opportunity to win five or six races this year,” Burton says. “There’s no question about that.”

When the Winston Cup tour hit Daytona at the season’s halfway point - after 17 of 34 races - Burton and Baldwin sat fourth in points with a win earlier in the year at Darlington.

But it was literally a tale of two seasons, unfortunately for Burton.

In the four races following Daytona, the No. 22 team hit a snag and posted four finishes of 18th or worse and slipped back to seventh in the points battle after the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis. By the night race at Bristol in late August, Burton was back to ninth in the points.

While three-time Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon slipped by for the ninth position by the end of the year, Burton and team started looking toward the 2001 season when they will switch from a Pontiac to a Dodge operation.

“The team has had a lot on its plate this summer getting ready for 2001,” says Burton, who posted only one top-five finish since March. “I've never been involved with an effort that was so intense on the coming year rather than the year that we were actually in.

“We have done as much work in the preparation for next season in the past three or four months than we have going to the races this summer. It took away a little bit from our effort.”

Burton also had to deal with the addition of a new teammate, rookie Dave Blaney. Knowing how important a multicar operation is now in Winston Cup, Burton spent a lot of time in tutoring Blaney along the way.

“The 93 car has picked it up a bunch,” Burton explains of Blaney. “Dave is getting better and that's something that we need. The 88 and the 28 cars have got it. The 6 and the 99 cars have got it. The 24 and his two teammates have obviously been working closely together. The better the 93 does, the better that we'll do in the long run, too.

“We already have a lot of unknowns going into the 2001 season, it would be nice if we could have one known - that being a strong and contending team."

Davis thinks the decision to jump ship to the new Dodge fold was the right one to make.

“I have every confidence in the world that this Dodge program will take us to a new level,” Davis says. “Not only is Dodge’s return to Winston Cup a great thing for those of us with the good fortune of being in on the ground floor, but it’s going to turn up the heat for the entire series. The stakes just got higher.”

While Burton says he can understand the ‘Why change a good thing?’ theory, he thinks the switch will work out to be the best one for all involved.

“There’s no question this is one of the top teams in the series, especially now that we’re a two-car team,” Burton says. “For us to make the change to the brand-new Dodge program might not look like a natural move. But racing is a risky business, and sometimes you have to do something like that if you want to get a leg up on the competition.”

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2000, Ward Burton

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