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Struggle defines first five races



Published: Sun, March 23, 2008 @ 12:00 a.m.

By John Bassetti

So far, the No. 22 Caterpillar team hasn’t done well enough to deserve to be in the top 35.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Here is today’s NASCAR funny:

What’s the result when the Easter bunny and Dave Blaney converge?

The Easter Blaney.

The Hartford (Trumbull County) native wishes he were having a rabbit-like start to the 2008 Sprint Cup season, but, by his own admission, that’s not the case.

“I really thought we were going to come out of the box really fast,” Blaney said of the Bill Davis Racing No. 22 Caterpillar Toyota that is 37th after five events in stock car racing’s premier series.

Simply, it’s been a struggle.

“We’ve only run well one race — at Daytona,” Blaney said of the season’s first race in February.

“We ran good the whole time, had lots of speed, but we didn’t get a good finish out of it,” he said of getting tangled up with Juan Pablo Montoya near the end of the race that goes in the books as an accident.

“So we didn’t even get to finish that one where had a strong car when we needed to take advantage of it.”

Weekends that followed included finishes of 30th (Fontana), 26th (Las Vegas) and a pair of 34ths at Atlanta and Bristol.

“It’s been surprising to me,” Blaney said of the unsatisfactory results to date. “Over the winter, we thought we made some good gains on the cars. Now we had a week off to regroup.”

Last week’s Easter break, however, wasn’t a time for rest or meditation, especially when a team has to make serious strides.

It wasn’t as productive as expected because rain wiped out opportunities to get in some miles.

“We had a whole bunch of testing planned, to go out and just race more and go through some things and figure them out,” Blaney said. “We needed the days to try to learn something, but we missed out on a couple.”

Instead, the No. 22 Cat team will attempt to make up for lost time this week before going to Martinsville.

Monday’s workout will be at a short track in North Carolina in preparation for Martinsville, while Tuesday and Wednesday in Nashville are for general testing.

“We’ll try to learn all we can this week,” Blaney said.

Since Bristol, the Cat team has added Gene Nead, who left a year ago to join another team.

“He’s coming back,” Blaney said of the crew member whose role will most likely be that of engineer. “He’s very good,” Blaney said of Nead, who will help crew chief Tommy Baldwin in all phases. “If you can add some people to make your team stronger, no matter when, that’s a good thing. Hopefully, it’ll give us a little shot in the arm and turn it around.”

Three of the five tracks visited so far — Vegas and Atlanta (mile-half) and California (two-mile) — are representative of ovals NASCAR drivers will encounter the most.

“The majority are intermediate so you hate to struggle on those, so we need to get that fixed and be more competitive because we’ll be on that kind a bunch of times.”

Blaney said that Sprint Cup drivers would eschew this year’s Car of Tomorrow, but they’re stuck.

“Everybody liked last year’s car better, but we’ve got to make the best of it and make it the best race car you can. I don’t know that they’re harder to work on, but they’re harder to make run faster — they’re just different. So it’s learning new things. That’s the biggest thing. Some teams have tested a lot and learned quicker than other teams.”

In a move to save the teams money, fewer chassis are available.

“Last year, each team had about 15 cars and they used little bit different style cars at every track. These new cars are supposed to be identical and used at almost every track.”

Since the disbanding of the No. 27 Toyota team with former Formula One driver Jacques Villeneuve, BDR is a one-car team.

“They just didn’t have sponsorship for that second car,” Blaney said. “He [Villeneuve] is Canadian and thought some Canadian companies would jump on board, but they just never got it going. He was trying and the group at Bill Davis was trying.”

Mike Skinner and Johnny Benson replaced Villeneuve, who only raced at Daytona.

“They ran a little while but couldn’t raise any more money,” Blaney said, “so they pretty much shut that team down until they can raise some sponsorship money.”

If Dave continues to hover around 35th in the standings, a ride in the Nationwide Series might be good therapy because it would occupy his Saturdays.

“I like running the Nationwide races, but at the moment, there just aren’t any cars to drive. If I could get a good car to drive I’d do it.”

The Busch Series (Nationwide’s predecessor) car Dave drove last year belonged to Todd Braun Racing.

“They decided to go with some different drivers [Brian Vickers, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlim], so I was out of the mix this year.”

With race No. 6 approaching this weekend, BDR’s Caterpillar team is on the outside looking in.

“We’ve got to go to Martinsville this week and qualify on our speed. We did that a bunch last year and I wanted no part of it this year. We haven’t run well enough to get in there. If we would have just finished the Daytona race and not gotten knocked out of it, we would be safety in. If we would have run in the other four, we’d be in good shape, but we haven’t. So, I guess you get what you deserve. At the moment, we haven’t run well enough to deserve to be in the top 35, so we need to change that if we can.”


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