Loss Of Earnhardt Clouds Gloomy Speedweeks 2001

The Bill Davis Racing family shares in the grief of the family and friends of Dale Earnhardt as well as our friends at both Richard Childress Racing and Dale Earnhardt, Inc. He established competitive precedents to which all of us will continue to aspire.and likely never reach..in both sport and life. He will never be replaced in our hearts.

One-third of the way through the 2001 Daytona 500, Bill Davis was enjoying a spotter's-height view of his fondest dream-come-true. His two NASCAR Winston Cup Series entries-the battle-tested #22 Caterpillar team with Ward Burton and the second-year #93 Amoco team of Dave Blaney-were running at the front of the pack contending for victory in NASCAR's biggest event.

Burton-who would go on to lead the most laps (54) in the race-was leading a four-car breakaway at the front that included BDR teammate Blaney-in only his 40th Winston Cup start-in third-place behind fellow 2000 rookie Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Throughout the segment of the race that followed the first pit stops of the day, the BDR cars pulled slowly away from the pack as Davis-serving as spotter for Burton high atop the frontstretch grandstand-surely felt a surge of security in knowing that his part in the new Dodge debut effort in NASCAR was showing tremendous performance potential.

But at the race's conclusion, Davis was left with the disappointment reserved for the cruel twists of NASCAR restrictor-plate racing, Blaney having earned the dubious distinction of suffering the first Dodge mechanical casuality with a blown engine on Lap 135 and Burton being the benefactor of the race's "Big Crash" on Lap 175 which involved nearly half the field. Burton's car-so slick in the track's turbulent draft throughout Speedweeks 2001-was damaged so badly that the #22 Cat crew struggled well into the post-race getting the car loaded onto the team's transporter for the trip back to North Carolina. For his effort, Burton would be shown in 35th-place on the final rundown, seven positions ahead of Blaney-the second car out of the 200-lap event.

The ending for the BDR team was an ill-fitting punctuation for a tremendous 10-day stay in Daytona, during which the BDR Intrepids joined all eight remaining Dodge teams in a spectacular coming-out event for NASCAR's newest manufacturer in Winston Cup competition. Burton and Blaney posted qualifying speeds of sixth and fourteenth, respectively, the latter four positions below Blaney's rookie speed spot for the 2000 season-opener at Daytona.

In the Twin 125 qualifying races which annually set the field for the Daytona 500, Burton and Blaney joined Bill Elliott and Stacy Compton-the front-row qualifiers for the race-as well as Sterling Marlin-the winner of the first Twin 125-among five Dodge entries which led during the two 125-mile races. Burton finished fourth in the second qualifying race, in which Blaney also led two laps and made a spectacular five-wide pass entering Turn 1 on the next-to-last lap to move up to ninth in the race.

On subsequent speed charts in practice, Burton showed he had the speed and Blaney demonstrated the workable handling required to race in the tight packs created by the restrictor-plate format mandated by NASCAR at both Daytona and Talladega SuperSpeedway. Each driver-as well as Car Owner Davis-believed his car capable of running at the front of Dodge's first Winston Cup race after an absence of over two decades. The ending for each car provided a difficult post-script after a week of such positive progress.

After the "Big Crash" which sidelined Burton and at least a dozen other cars, Michael Waltrip led a greatly-reduced field through the final 25 laps to record his first career Winston Cup win-a bittersweet victory at best with the subsequent death in a final-lap crash of his friend and car owner Dale Earnhardt, Sr. Waltrip-who won after 462 career Winston Cup starts, led a 1-2 finish (in front of Earnhardt, Jr.) for Dale Earnhardt, Inc. Chevrolets. Pole-sitter Elliott was the top finishing Dodge in fifth.

In the Busch Series race at Daytona, BDR rookie Scott Wimmer led 24 laps in his first-ever superspeedway drafting experience and finished 15th on the lead lap behind race-winner Randy Lajoie, who won his third Busch Series race in his past five Daytona starts. Wimmer-whose #23 BDR Pontiac came to Daytona unsponsored-also sported the logos of commercial cleaning giant Jani-King for the first of a seven-race sponsorship package for the 2001 Busch Series Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year contender.

Next weekend, the Bill Davis Racing teams join their NASCAR Winston Cup and Busch Series counterparts at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, N.C. for the second races of their respective 2001 seasons.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2001

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