Blaney 17Th In Talladega 500

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On a weekend filled with almost universal dread and apprehension, Dave Blaney and his NASCAR Winston Cup Series peers escaped the season's second restrictor-plate race at Talladega Superspeedway without incident in a caution-free race won by Bobby Hamilton.

After qualifying 16th in the #93 Amoco/Siemens Dodge Intrepid, Blaney finished 17th in the best superspeedway performance of his brief NASCAR career, running as high as third and as low as 35th in a race that featured 37 lead changes between 26 different drivers. Blaney appeared in good position for a top-ten finish with ten laps remaining, perched in a mid-track line of cars (in 14th) between eventual winner Hamilton and defending Winston Cup champion Bobby Labonte, who finished fifth. But the lap-down car of fellow Dodge driver Casey Atwood fell in line in front of Blaney as Hamilton and Labonte broke to the bottom of the track while the #93 Amoco/Siemens entry was stalled on the outside behind rookie Atwood.

After 60 days of continuous speculation and debate following the death of seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt on the final lap of the Daytona 500, most crews and drivers came to Talladega with a somber perspective about running the 188-lap event, in which cars are tightly bunched together in a three-wide pack 2-3 feet apart for over three hours.

As he crossed the finish line, current Winston Cup points leader Dale Jarrett radioed Crew Chief Todd Parrott that the experience was " as afraid as I've ever been in a race car." Three-time WC champion Jeff Gordon left the race track, refusing to comment. Dodge driver Sterling Marlin-currently fifth in the WC point standings-labeled his afternoon "ridiculous racing" and said it "was a miracle" that similar carnage to the 20-car pile-up in the Daytona 500 did not occur again. Former WC champion Bill Elliott called the exercise "total BS. It's a shame when you look at a race and feel like you've had a good day just because you didn't get hurt."

Between them, Jarrett (5), Gordon (6), Marlin (6) and Elliott (12) have won 29 races at restrictor-plate tracks and finished 18th, 28th, 23rd and 33rd, respectively, in the most recent superspeedway spectacle at Talladega. As testimony to the volatile nature of the event, Blaney ran in the same position on consecutive laps in only 28 of the 188 laps, being shifted and shoved by the unpredictable tides of the draft at 190 miles-per-hour.

Bill Davis Racing teammate Ward Burton, who failed to make a qualifying lap for the race after breaking a transmission on pit-road, slid through his pit-box on the team's second stop of the race, was penalized and finished one lap down to the leaders in 33rd.

Tony Stewart-who joined his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Labonte in riding out the race in the back of the field for much of the day, finished behind Hamilton followed by Roush Racing teammates Kurt Busch and Mark Martin. Buckshot Jones-in 15th-edged Blaney as the highest finishing of the nine Dodges in the field, although Marlin led the most laps of any driver. Pole-winner Stacy Compton exited with motor failure at mid-race and finished last.

Blaney was also hampered by a malfunctioning air-conditioning unit, which went out by Lap 80 and turned an already tense race situation into a real pressure cooker for 1995 World of Outlaws sprint car champion.

"It seemed like if you could ever get to the top-10, you could stay there a little while. The times I got to the front, our car was really good in a single-file line. I just couldn't get there enough and couldn't get back there at the end. I didn't really see anyone's car all day that was strong enough to just jump out of line and go. That's the way these races are. Everybody's too equal to do much of anything.

"When we ran really close to people, the car got a little too tight to run hard but most of it just depended on where you were sitting in everyone else's air. The last lap wasn't that bad. Early in the race, everyone was at least giving each other 2-3 feet but at the end, it's maybe 2-3 inches and that's too close. If any of these guys said they enjoyed this thing-even the winner-they're lying. Still, for us, we've always seemed to qualify well but haven't had much luck in the restrictor-plate races-even in the Busch Series-so this seems like progress. I guess we could have ended up like Sterling and finished in the back with a great car or further to the front-like some other guys-who didn't have a clue how they ended up there. That's not really racing the way it should be."

With the finish, Blaney moved up two spots to 27th-place in the Winston Cup standings but, more importantly, gained points on teams further to the front as the 2001 season continues to surprise and jumble the order in the ranks. Blaney now trails BDR teammate Burton-who dropped to 16th-by only 124 points and is in the middle of a pack of drivers-from Michael Waltrip in 19th (915 points) to Mike Skinner in 30th (810 points) separated by only 105 points. Blaney trails pre-season WC championship favorite Jeff Burton (26th) by only seven points and leads Jeremy Mayfield (28th) by only six points entering this weekend's race at California Speedway.

In the Busch Series race at Talladega, rookie Scott Wimmer qualified well (10th), ran as high as fifth-place early in the race but finished 42nd when his engine failed on Lap 22 of the 113-lap race. With the finish, Wimmer dropped five positions to 14th in the standings but remains second in the overall rookie standings behind Greg Biffle.

Winston Cup qualifying at California is scheduled for Friday, April 27 at 2 p.m. PDT, immediately following the Busch Series qualifying session at 12:30p.m. The Winston Cup race is scheduled for Sunday, April 29 at 11:30a.m. PDT. The Busch Series race is scheduled for Saturday, April 28 at 12:30 p.m. PDT.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2001

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