Blaney Finishes 12Th In Joliet

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For the second time this season, Dave Blaney drove from the back of the field to the front, flirting with a top-ten finish in the inaugural race at Chicagoland Speedway before settling in 12th-place behind race-winner Kevin Harvick.

But unlike his charge through the field in the Texas race on April Fool’s Day, the effort of Blaney and the #93 Amoco/Siemens team at Chicago was more impressive because of the improbability of the outcome prior to the event.

At Texas, Blaney suffered a tire problem in qualifying and took the last available provisional starting spot, but subsequently was one of the fastest cars in ensuing practice sessions, setting the stage for his dramatic surge to the front during which he passed 61 cars enroute to an eventual sixth-place finish.

But at Chicago, both Blaney and Bill Davis Racing teammate Ward Burton—each proficient on 1.5-mile tracks—were uncharacteristically sluggish in both early practice and qualifying, placing 35th and 26th, respectively, in the starting order.

Then, Blaney lost control of the #93 Amoco/Siemens Dodge entering the track’s treacherous Turn 1 just three laps into the first post-qualifying practice session, destroying the team’s primary car for the weekend and forcing Crew Chief Doug Randolph to quickly prepare his back-up car.

Blaney—now forced to the back of the field in his replacement car--never got up to speed in the final 45-minute practice session, placing last among the 43 drivers who earned starting positions for the second-ever Chicago-area NASCAR Winston Cup race.

But at the start of the 267-lap event, Blaney moved up nine positions quickly before the mandatory NASCAR caution period at Lap 40, showing a more competitive pace than at anytime during the four-day race weekend. Through creative pit strategy from Randolph and the Amoco crew, Blaney moved steadily through the field during the course of the race as track-position became a premium condition with only judicious passing on the slick, narrow racing surface.

After closing to within striking range of tenth-place finisher Bill Elliott on the race’s final restart with five laps remaining, Blaney was shuffled back several spots, passing Rusty Wallace on the final turn to finish 12th, producing the biggest start-to-finish improvement (31 positions) of any car in the field along with fellow 2000 WC rookie-of-the-year candidates Matt Kenseth (30 positions—37th to 7th) and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (25 positions—36th to 11th).

"From Lap 50 on, we really had a great car but we fought track-posiiton all day and it was just so hard to pass," said Blaney, who posted his fifth top-15 finish of the season and his third in the last five races in addition to his run at the front at the end of the Pepsi 400 at Daytona two weeks ago.

"You could be three-tenths of a second faster than a guy and once you got to him, you’d just lose the front end to where you couldn’t get a run on him or pass. We finally got there where we could pass as the groove widened out a bit. I think everybody except the guys out fron were fighting the same things at some point during the day. I think if we had just gotten track position any time during the race, we might have finished even better than we did. We were definitely one of the fastest 6-8 cars at the end but we had a long way to go through the field.

"It was a good smooth day for us—good pit-stops, a good car and didn’t make any mistakes. Considering everything that happened during the weekend, it was a pretty good finish. We struggled with both cars in practice, so I don’t know if we would have been better with the car we lost. We were just too loose with it in practice, and I just let it get away from me. One or two more races here at Chicago and this track will be really good. It’ll have a second groove and passing won’t be as tough."

Robert Pressley—who gambled on with a two-tire final pit stop—posted a career-best runner-up finish behind race-winner Harvick while Ricky Rudd, Dale Jarrett and outside-pole sitter Jimmy Spencer rounded out the top-five. With Jeff Gordon suffering late-race engine problems, Jarrett’s finish moved him into a tie for the WC points lead with Gordon while third-place Rudd is only 18 points back. Ward Burton—who finished one lap down in 20th—remained 18th in the point standings, 240 points behind 10th-place Bobby Labonte.

With the finish, Blaney moved up to 24th in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series standings, 108 points behind 20th-place Jerry Nadeau and 201 points behind BDR teammate Burton in 18th. Blaney also moved into the top-ten in miles-completed for the 2001 Winston Cup season with a 97% completion ratio through 18 races.

In Saturday’s Busch Series race at Chicagoland, Scott Wimmer started 28th and finished 13th on the lead-lap behind race-winner Jimmie Johnson. Wimmer remains 13th in the NASCAR Busch Series standings, 84 points behind tenth-place Randy Lajoie, entering this weekend’s race in St. Louis. Qualifying at Gateway is scheduled for Friday, July 20 at 7 p.m. CDT with the race scheduled for Saturday, July 21 at 7 p.m. CDT.

The Winston Cup Series travels to New Hampshire International Speedway this weekend for the first of two WC races at the one-mile oval where driver Kenny Irwin lost his life last summer. Qualifying for the WC entries is scheduled for Friday, July 20 at 2:15 p.m. EDT with the 300-lap race scheduled for Sunday, July 22 at 2 p.m. EDT. The busy weekend at NHIS includes events for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series as well as the NASCAR Busch North Series and NASCAR Modified Series.

Motor Racing Network will broadcast the events from both New Hampshire and St. Louis on radio and the NBC family of motorsports outlets (NBC network, TNT, CNN-SI) will televise both the WC and BGN events.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2001

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