NASCAR News

Ward Burton looks forward to 2nd half of season 

July 5, 2002

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Ward Burton, driver of the No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge, looks to the Pepsi 400 and the second half of the 2002 NASCAR Season to get things back to the winning ways he and the CAT team experienced in the Daytona 500.

“I think it will be exciting for us as a team to go back to the place where the season began and where we last visited victory lane,” said Burton. “It really is an awesome feeling winning a race, but there is a special feeling that goes along with winning the Daytona 500.”

Burton capitalized on a late-race caution that put him into the lead after Sterling Marlin was sent to pit road for a stop-and-go penalty after working on the fender of his racecar during red-flag conditions.

“We’ve had a lot of late-race cautions at plate races and that is not exactly what the drivers like to see. That is almost always a recipe for disaster because drivers know it is their last shot at winning the race and you can pull off a win from a few rows back at the plate races. We’ve had the late cautions help us win and help us lose. It all worked out for us at the Daytona 500, and actually, last July we were able to pull off a fourth-place finish because of a late caution. But, we’ve also been the big loser in some of those restarts too. I know we’ve wrecked in the July race under a green-white-checker. It’s just a crap shoot.”

The restrictor-plate program at Bill Davis Racing has become a force to be reckoned with. Over the years, Davis has put an enormous effort into the development of his engine program under the tutelage of Terry Elledge and he has put an equal emphasis on the development of his engineering department with Todd Holbert at the helm.

“We’ve really put a lot of emphasis on the development of many programs at Bill Davis Racing, but the restrictor-plate races have been our most noticeable improvement,” said Davis. “Ward’s had one of the better cars at Daytona for the past couple of years and I look for this weekend to follow that pattern. Tommy and Ward work very well together to get a great set up at Daytona and Terry and Todd have worked long hours on the development of the motor and body.”

“We have gotten better and better at Daytona over the past couple years,” said Burton. “We’re always excited to go back there and hope that we’re one of the better cars there and that we can be competitive.”

Things will be a little different for Burton and the Caterpillar team when they return to Daytona. The race is 400 miles versus 500 and the race is run under the lights as opposed to during the daylight.

“The handling is a little more critical in the day, but the track can still get very tight under the lights just like it did for us last year. We had a hard time getting our car to turn. It’s a handling track at Daytona, but it’s also a place where you need the total package too. The driver is important, but the car is just as critical.”

Racing under the lights at Daytona is something many of us never thought we’d see, but the change to night racing in July has been welcomed by many.

“The first night race at the Pepsi 400 was the most memorable for me," said Davis. “We’d never seen restrictor plate racing under the lights before and when it happened for the first time, no one knew what to expect. Seeing those cars go around that track at night was absolutely awesome. It produces some of the most spectacular racing for the fans. They get the thrill of a plate race under the lights and then the speedway puts on an awesome fireworks display.”

Burton is hoping that this race under the lights gives the CAT team a much- needed boost to a season with some extreme highs and extreme lows. They are looking for something to get there season back on track.

“We’re heading into this weekend without another break until the season ends and I hope this race can give us a good start to that long stretch of races. We can turn things around this weekend and get back to being competitive.

Baldwin shares Burton’s optimism.

“I think this can be the race to get our confidence back and get us heading in the right direction,” said Tommy Baldwin. “We’ve been working as hard as ever and we’ve been plagued by a lot of misfortune. I hope Daytona will give us a good finish and we can take that finish and build some momentum to head into the final stretch of the 2002 season.”

One hurdle has finally been cleared – both Burton and sponsor Caterpillar have re-signed with Bill Davis Racing, putting an end to many rumors about Burton’s future. Burton’s new deal is for two years, taking him through 2004, while Caterpillar has signed a new five-year deal.

"I'm done. I'm ready to rock.” Burton said, “Caterpillar has signed for five years. A lot changes in the sport and I wasn't willing to sign a five-year deal. We never even talked about it because I told Caterpillar when we talked that five years is a long time. A lot can change in five years.”

“Three years is a long time in this business. Five years is just too far to look down the future. I don't even know for me physically to sign a five-year deal if I would even be up for it. I do want options, and I feel like they need to have options. I'm going to give it 100 percent, and I'm sure they will, too.”

”I just want to make things work. The part I'm going to play in making it work is very much worthwhile the effort. We've just got to make it work. I believed in it enough to sign away another two and a half years of my life. We've got to make it work."

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