The Sharon Speedway co-owner returned to his roots to help usher in the 2003 season.
By JOHN BASSETTI
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
HARTFORD -- Dave Blaney says banked race tracks have been very good to his Jasper Engines and Transmissions No. 77 Ford one-third of the way into this NASCAR Winston Cup season, while flat tracks haven't been as good.
Blaney, a Hartford native, made the remarks Saturday morning while erecting sponsor signs along fences prior to the season-opener at the new Sharon Speedway.
Blaney, a co-owner of the facility with his family, returned home for Easter break after nine weekends in stock car racing's biggest circuit.
His best finish this season was a career-best third in the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 at Darlington in March.
Blaney finished 19th in points in 2002 and was ranked as high as seventh this season. He's currently 24th.
Strong until snag
"I thought we had things under control those first five races," Blaney said. "I thought we really had our program going strong and then we hit a few snags. But we have a little time off to try to figure things out and get back on some tracks that we've run good at."
NASCAR's next stop is in Fontana, Calif. for the Auto Club 500 on April 27.
Blaney said that he and the Jasper team under crew chief "Booty" Barker have performed better at banked tracks than flat.
"We can't get going on the flat race tracks. The things we're doing on the banked tracks to help us are not helping us on the flat ones and we don't really know why. You just keep testing until you figure it out."
Blaney gives himself a grade of C-plus so far.
"We probably started off stronger than I anticipated. Now we feel bad that we've slumped a little bit. But if you look at the overall picture, I wish we were better than 24th in points. But we've had two crashes and a blowup and plenty of DNFs [did not finish] to hurt. On the good side, we've had three top 10 finishes."
Blaney was asked about the propriety of Jeff Gordon's somewhat controversial pass to pull out victory for the Virginia 500 at Martinsville Speedway last week.
"You win how you can get them," Blaney said. "Everybody knows the rules. If that stuff happens, it happens."
Matt Kenseth is the points leader at this time, but Blaney considers Gordon in the mix of top racers, too.
"It's the same crowd. Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson with the Hendricks bunch is going to be good as are the Roush Racing cars of Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Earnhardt Jr. It's so early in the year, but I'd say Kenseth is the odds-on favorite to win the points. He's really fast, really consistent, really smart. I'd say he's the guy to beat."
A few non-racing issues have surfaced lately. The pending loss of the tobacco industry's money is one of them.
"It's going to affect us a little bit. Obviously, Winston is going to go away from NASCAR and that's going to be a big blow. But as strong as NASCAR is right now, I don't foresee them having any trouble replacing them [tobacco industry] with another good sponsor. You hate to lose somebody that's been involved for so many years and done so much for NASCAR, but that's the way the world's turning right now."
Inclusion of minorities is another matter facing NASCAR.
Way it was
"It didn't have minorities involved and I can't even give you a reason why. That's just the way it grew. But you see a lot more of it, a lot more guys coming into drag car racing and Indy car racing. Slowly and surely, I'm sure it's going to be that way in NASCAR too. It's just going to take a while."
Blaney was asked about the athleticism of drivers.
"I don't know what you consider an athlete. Half the time you look at a baseball player and he doesn't look like an athlete. You just have to be skilled in certain things. Obviously, we're not like pro basketball players or guys like that who have to be in top shape in every way. We have to be good at being able to handle the heat and being able to concentrate non-stop for four hours straight. It's specialized things you have to be good at -- not necessarily in shape like a big athlete. Pick a sport and a lot of them are specialized at what they have to be good at, whether it's shooting rifles or archery or whatever. Some take hand-eye coordination. Some take more physical stuff using the legs and arms."