Burton Upbeat About 2002

Ward Burton always seems to be on the verge of greatness. But there always seems to be something in the way, some problem or issue that acts like a restrictor plate to Burton’s efforts.

A solid season in 1999 – one with three second-place finishes and a nine-place result in the points standings – led to the promise of a good 2000.

But it didn’t happen. The addition of Dave Blaney to Bill Davis Racing put a drain on Burton’s season that sapped momentum the second half of the season, when Burton went from second in the points to 10th.

Many expected Burton to be one of the top Dodge drivers in 2001, but the switch of manufacturers, plus the transition to Goodyear’s new tire compound, proved to be troubling.

Burton won the Southern 500 but changed places in the points standings 21 times. A late-season run moved him from 20th to 14th, so there’s hope for 2002.

He’s had that before. Can this season be different? Can Burton realized his team’s potential?

“The good thing about this year and the winter leading up to Daytona is we didn’t have any changes,” Burton said.

For Burton, that’s a big deal. Crew chief Tommy Baldwin is back, as is engine builder Terry Elledge. There’s no switch in manufacturers, and Davis’ second team has already been established. Yes, Burton has a new teammate, but Hut Stricklin should be a benefit, not a detriment.

“Bringing in Hut and (crew chief) Philippe (Lopez) is nothing but a positive for us,” Burton said.

So maybe Burton will finally have that breakout season, win several races and contend for the championship.

“If we do what we’re capable of doing, we should be there through the season,” Burton said. “Last year, if you take the eight races where we had the magnet in the rear end and got wrecked – if you took four of those races and we finished where we should’ve finished, we would have finished sixth or seventh in the points.

“With all the changes that we made, we still were a top-10 team. We’ve got to have some luck. Some of the things you can’t control, we need to not have all them not go in a negative way.”

Burton had plenty of bad things happen, like six DNFs because of crashes and three because of engine failures.

“We had an incredible amount of bad luck at the end of last season,” Davis said. “We’d get caught up in somebody else’s mess, had some stupid parts failures and even had a screw go through the radiator at Michigan when we were running in the Top 5. That was a shame. I really believe we were in the Top 5 with 20 something laps to go and got into somebody else’s mess a number of times.

“We’d never had that kind of bad luck before. If we’ve got all that behind us and we hit the ground running – we didn’t have any changes on this team; everybody stayed – I believe we’ll be a much stronger race team than we were last year.”

Burton sure hopes so.

“We’re so much more prepared than we were last year,” Burton said. “We’ve got seven cars sitting there that are proven. All of ‘em are already painted black and yellow. We finished fifth with our Atlanta car. We finished sixth with our Rockingham car, and if the caution hadn’t come out, we had a shot at winning. Our short-track car we finished third with at Martinsville. We’ve got our Charlotte/Darlington car that we won a race with.

“We’ve got proven cars. Last year we sold every car we had, so we started all new. With Dodge and Goodyear, it took half a season to get regrouped from 2000. We’re in better shape and better prepared now than we’ve ever been.”

Burton said the team is “we’re really close to getting where we need to be.”

“I don’t see any one thing that we’re missing,” Burton said.

Burton wouldn’t mind finding a tire changer for Baldwin so the crew chief would stay atop the pit box during races. Otherwise, Burton isn’t complaining about the team.

“I’m real excited about it,” Burton said. “I know everybody’s excited this time of year, but I feel like this is the best opportunity I’ve ever had at Bill Davis Racing.

“I’m more upbeat than I’ve ever been about the race team, about the two teams working together as one. We’ve got a bunch of great people, and I think we’re ready to rock ‘n roll.”

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