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NASCAR Winston Cup Series: Daytona 500

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  Daytona 500

NASCAR Winston Cup Series: Daytona 500

Tommy Baldwin
Ward Burton
Bill Davis
February 17, 2002


DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA

MODERATOR: I'd like to get started with our post race news conference. Winner - Daytona 500, Ward Burton. This is Ward's first win here at Daytona, and his eighth start in the Daytona 500. He's the first Virginian to ever win the Daytona 500 in the No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge. Ward, we'll open it up with a quick question. Could you just talk a little bit about waiting at that red flag, how nerve-wracking did it get? One of the most wildest finishes you had. Take us through it.

WARD BURTON: Well, we had a super car here last year and probably compared to the competition had a stronger car here last year than we did today. Today we had some luck. We were in the right place at the right time. Actually we had a train going there with the 24 to 40 and myself and the 21, Elliott. Then the 24 and 40 got together, and that made us race to the line there. I still haven't figured out exactly why the 40 car got put to the tailend of the longest line. That gave us another opportunity. We were just fortunate to be in the right place at the right time and were able to capitalize on it. Just feel really thankful for the guys on the team, have sacrificed so much, their families, worked so hard. Bill Davis Racing and Gail. We've come a long way since '95. It means a lot to be here today.

Q. Tommy, a question for you. Could you talk about the winner, how hard the team worked, you were faster in testing, and this is the same car you guys had last year, right?

TOMMY BALDWIN: Yeah. We had the same car last year, but we wrecked it in the 500, then came back in the 4th of July race and qualified 2nd and finished 7th.

WARD BURTON: 4th (laughter).

TOMMY BALDWIN: That's the first time he's given me information (laughter). The last restricted place rate at Talladega, we wrecked it again. This has been a work-in-progress. This car here had a Pontiac body on it, that's how old it is. Thing just likes to run real well. We worked real hard this winter fine-tuning it, getting all our other race cars ready to go. We started this 2002 season back in September of 2001. I figured we'd get a really good head start. All our work right now today has paid off.

Q. We also have Bill Davis here. Maybe give a quick comment to the building of this team. You and your wife have worked hard on this. The movement to Dodge. All kind of culminates today, this win, doesn't it?

BILL DAVIS: Yeah. Like I said earlier, it doesn't get any better than winning the Daytona 500. This is it. This is what we all work for. When you're a young person and you want to be a racer, and you're a real racer, you dream of not only competing at this level, that's a pretty big honor, but then to win the biggest race that we run. I thought the Southern 500 was about as good as it could get last year, but this is just -- this is unbelievable. I'm just so happy for everybody that supports us, all the people that work at Bill Davis Racing work so hard, dedicate themselves to it. This is just a wonderful thing.

Q. How many disasters did you avoid today? At what point did it hit you that you would inherit the chance to win this race in the way that it all played out? When did it occur to you that you were in the position that you were going to be to win the race?

WARD BURTON: Well, you know, there were a lot of close calls throughout the course of the event. But our closest was the one that -- the pivotal point was when the 24 and 29 got together. I thought for a bit about trying to get high. Obviously we knew he was going to go back high, turn a hard left, got the car actually sideways. His back or the side of his car went right by the nose of my car. I was lucky to even get control back on it. But that was the big point with us. The only other real close call we had that was not behind us was when the 24 and 40 got together. You know, when they got together, I went on the outside of the 40 car and we raced back to the line. What was the other part of the question?

Q. When did you know you were in the position to win the race?

WARD BURTON: We were running -- there was five-car breakaway, 24 and 40, us. Actually, the 12, us, the 6. We got by the 12. It was four of us in line. We knew we had a shot then. You never know what will happen here. It's an atmosphere that can play in your hand or play against you, whether you get to push or not. But, you know, we really, really knew that we had a serious shot at it when the 40 car had to go to the tailend of the longest line, that put us in the hot seat. I really would have rather had 21 behind us, a friend of mine, on and off the track. But 21 got around the 9, and Elliott followed me. We had some good momentum then. Elliott never really got the momentum to make a charge at us. We were racing behind pretty hard. From there all I had to do was steer between the lines. Had a great race car.

Q. When you were getting ready to start this race today, how much of a realistic shot to win the race, considering all the Chevrolets, how strong they were, the Pontiacs, how much of a realistic shot to win the race did you imagine you had? Also, could you have imagined all the craziness that would go on considering we're going back to a set of rules that everybody thought was going to make for a more stable race?

WARD BURTON: Well, we saw in the 125s people could still pass. Both races were good races. You never know exactly what your involvement is going to be until you get all 43 of us together. But I think that it was a better change. It was a change in a positive way than what we had last year. Last year was three abreast all day long. We had some three abreast today, but mainly two abreast. You know, I really wasn't sure starting off this morning whether we had a shot to win the race, but I was very determined to try to be there at the end of the race. You know, we've learned that you have to finish first, and that's what our goal was to be there at the end of the race, and maybe we'd have a shot at it. We had some luck to do that. You know, at one time, Tommy had told me and when he told me, I started paying attention, it was the 24, the 40 and the 22, and everybody else was Dodges -- excuse me, Fords in the Top 10. It looked like pretty good even parity between all the makes. Some of the strongest cars that showed in the 125s had trouble during the course of the race. They really wasn't contenders.

Q. Last year you guys were dominant before you got caught up in the big wreck. How much do you feel a feeling of redemption this year? You weren't that dominant, but you ended up winning the race.

WARD BURTON: You know, my teammates were really confident - Tommy and all the guys working on the car the last two weeks, Terry Ellis, his support group, everybody kept saying, "This car is going to stay at Daytona." You know, I laugh at them and say, "Yeah, yeah, that would be great." But they were very confident that this car was going to stay in USA, Daytona over here. It does feel special. But, you know, we felt like that was a race that was kind of stolen from us - not that we had it won, but we had a real legitimate shot at it. These races, you know, the nature of them, is one that's such you never know what's going to happen till the race is over.

Q. Bill, could you address that, too.

BILL DAVIS: Well, we were so disappointed last year because we come down here with such an unknown, we didn't know what we had. We tested poorly in January, and went home and worked real hard, went to Talladega, tested, came back down here and just, man, had an awesome car, led all those laps. You try not to let yourself get too carried away in the course of a race, especially one of these. But we got to thinking, "Man, we could win this race." One year ago, when it all happened, I couldn't have been any more disappointed in the way it ended up. So to come back and, you know, have the chance to get this one, it does make you feel a lot better about it.

Q. Tommy?

TOMMY BALDWIN: Our biggest thing I tried to implement with the team over the winter was that preparation was going to be the key this year to get off to a good start. We have the first six races of cars sitting there ready to go. We fine-tuned all of them. This winter, I think, since this is the first time in my career at Winston Cup that I didn't have to be part of rebuilding a team; finally we just got to refine a team. And I think that was the big plus this winter, just keeping -- Bill has done an awesome job the last couple years supplying us with the tools and the people we've needed to move forward. This winter was pretty mellow, a lot more mellow than what it used to be. We were just pretty confident with this car. It's been a good race car for us throughout probably the last three or four years now. It's always run well. I knew if we just stuck to the basics and did everything that we know how to do, don't make any dumb changes to the car all week long. You know, Ward was getting a little worried during the week, what was going on. I just swore to myself I was going to stick to the basics this week, and the next three or four weeks, and that's what we're going to do.

Q. When you're sitting over there in the backstretch parked right behind Sterling, you see the window net come down from his car, he comes out, what did you think at that point? Did you realize that he had committed a critical mistake at that point?

WARD BURTON: I wasn't really sure at that moment how big a mistake it was. I didn't see him mess with the fender. Bill told me on the radio that there had been an adjustment made or something. Sterling was just caught up in the moment. You know, he was anxious to see whether his car was okay or not. Might have done the same thing in the same scenario. There's times that we all make mistakes in the heat of the moment. You know, obviously if he could go back and rethink that, at least, you know, look at it instead of making a change to it, if that's what he did, obviously, he would. But Sterling is truly a class act. We always enjoyed racing hard with him at these places. He's been a good partner with.

Q. Would you have preferred to race him for the lead?

WARD BURTON: No, I would have definitely rather been in the lead (laughter).

Q. Do you feel kind of sort of a revenge after the struggles you had earlier in the decade?

BILL DAVIS: Well, yeah, I guess so. I've struggled a lot with wanting to understand what it took to earn respect in this garage and maybe to be taken seriously, if you will. I just think I've always tried to work really hard, grow my deal, get in position to win races like this, in the Southern 500. But you still don't -- or I don't feel like maybe we've always gotten the respect that we should. You know, we've struggled a lot with sponsorships. You know, I don't know. Yeah, I got a lot of revenge. I feel pretty good right now (smiling).

Q. Tommy, there was so much talk about the spoiler heights going into this race, the Dodges getting the quarter inch on Friday, the Fords with the three cuts and so forth, how much -- with all the talk of rule changes, what did it mean today for you all, Tommy?

TOMMY BALDWIN: Basically, to put us back in business. You know, after the wind tunnel results, you know, we're an industry, we know what everybody has. We're in the top bunch of the group of race teams, that we know what we're racing against. Once they cut the Fords a half inch, we already knew the Chevrolets had an advantage on us at quarter inch. It showed up Thursday on the 125s. We went from a chance to win the Daytona 500 to luckily finishing in the 15th spot. We fought real hard to get at least a quarter inch. Finally NASCAR agreed. That just put us back equal. We knew us being equal, we could win the Daytona 500. That's how confident I am in our race team and Ward Burton. It definitely put us back giving us a chance to win the Daytona 500.

Q. Did you feel like you might be racing for the win when you were racing with Sterling back to the caution?

WARD BURTON: Yeah, definitely so. You know, we've seen in the past, there's been some pretty terrific wrecks when you have a couple laps to go, here and Talladega, a little bit antsy about that. Actually, I complained about it sitting on the backstretch. I'm remembering that now. Kind of fell in our hand. But, yeah, we were definitely racing back. Sterling beat me by a couple feet.

Q. You talked about learning how to finish your races. How have you learned to drive this place? What was it like on the victory lap?

WARD BURTON: You know, Tommy and Bill Davis Racing, all the guys, Terry Ellis, they've given me some good race cars. We have to finish first. To finish first, we have to give and take. A couple instances out there that I could have hit somebody, wrecked them. I'm sure there was more than one instance they could have done the same to me. But I tried to drive the way you want to be driven. Last year it feels like we had more of our knocks than we should have because we try to drive people clean. Actually took away some opportunities that we possibly could have had. But it really feels great. Because all those guys have worked so hard on, you know, not only our team, but all of Bill Davis Racing team, every one of them were part of us being there today.

Q. What did it feel like on the victory lap?

WARD BURTON: Had a bunch of tears in my eyes. I had to make one extra lap to get my composure.

Q. Can you talk about the history of winning this event? Did this race remind you at all of anything you grew up with?

WARD BURTON: All of us started in the Weekly Racing Series, wherever we started at, always took the Sunday off to watch the Daytona 500. It means a lot. You know, I'm sure these guys are heroes and my hero, Bobby Allison, all the guys that made the sport what it is today, watched them be successful here and to win this race here, truly I can't think of anything more special. You know, everybody on our team is healthy. We just had one of our guys, he just had a newborn son. You know, we're a real family back there. We don't have any quarrelling. Everybody is on the same page. You know, we work together for our goals. It's our goals, not just Bill's or Tommy's goal. It's just all of us working for the same goal, is what makes it so special really.

Q. Does it remind you of watching --

WARD BURTON: Nothing ever I've done before reminds me of this. Watching on TV, No. Being a part of it, being in that victory circle, actually being able to make that lap, getting high-fived by all our different team members, coming down and joining our team in victory circle, there's nothing that you could experience that's going to top that.

Q. You've never been accused of being flamboyant. The next few days are going to be a bit of a whirlwind. Are you ready for that? Are you prepared for that?

WARD BURTON: Well, we're going to do what NASCAR wants us to do. But I fit in better in the little hills in Virginia (smiling). We're going to New York. We'll try to fit in there. We'll have a lot of fun doing it. You know, NASCAR has done such a wonderful job making this sport what it is. When people will have us in places and take our team and the winner and our sponsors to a place like New York, it's awful special for all of us.

Q. Nearly all the wrecks were caused by swerving, blocking, running into each other. Did you almost have to develop a short-track mentality to keep all the fenders on the car and get to the end?

WARD BURTON: You know, it's the difference of staying your line and actually blocking. It's a difference between somebody's got a little momentum and somebody's got a lot of steam. I think ever since we got away, most of the races were called by blocking. We got passed as many times today as we passed. We really didn't start concentrating or trying to get in the right line, try to be in the right line, till 34 to go. We have to give-and-take. A lot of guys had a lot more steam than I did, and they passed me. Our car in the long run was actually better in 30 laps of time to get fuel. That's when our car would get back in the Top 10. We just had to bide our time and wait for when our handling came around to us, and with the momentum of our gear selection came to us. We're certainly not going to do it if we jump in somebody's groove that's got a lot of momentum and getting knocked around. That's where a lot of what I saw today happened.

Q. What was the most bizarre thing that you saw happen out there today?

WARD BURTON: I don't know. You don't want to pinpoint anything. I guess I don't really know exactly what happened with 29, 24, but I know there was some blocking going on. But obviously I knew that 29 was going up a track. Had just a moment to decide what to do. Either way, it was going to be awful close. Tried to stay low and cut the wheel hard to the left. Actually got sideways and it couldn't have been more than a foot or two in front of my nose when I went by. That was pretty much the pivotal point of us being here today, missing that wreck.

Q. Is blocking a fact of life here now?

WARD BURTON: Well, maintaining your groove, protecting your track position is one thing. But when you can see from your depth perception in your rearview mirror, when a guy gets a lot of steam going, and you pull in his tracks, you're doing what you need to do in a way, but at the same time you're putting yourself at the mercy of that guy behind you either to back off or to try to find somewheres to go. You keep going back and forth, sometimes there is nowhere to go. He's got that momentum. So we chose -- I chose not to put myself in that situation. Now, at the last couple of laps, obviously I would have tried to follow Elliott's tire tracks, the way he was going, but at the same time I'm not going to wreck the car to win the race because it doesn't do me or Elliott or anybody else any good. So we try to be smart. We try to drive everybody the way we want to be driven. At the same time, just like Tommy always said, we try to drive it like we stole it (laughter).

Q. If you could talk what it means to you to become the first Winston Cup driver to win a Winston Cup race from Virginia.

WARD BURTON: Well, I didn't know that. That feels great. I tell you what, I had a Virginian that had something to do with that today, that was my friend on and off the track, fellow Virginian, Elliott Sadler. He definitely had a part of us winning this race. We worked together well in the July race, we finished third, he finished fourth. He was ecstatic that day, we were too. I think that we both are really happy that it was one of us two today. I'm just happy for our team. It's really not about me. It's about being a part of this team. Watching where we've come and to where we're at now. Like Tommy said, this is the first year that I've been with Bill Davis Racing that we haven't made huge building steps in one fashion or another. I've been saying that all winter. We've been strengthening our weaknesses, strengthening our support group, and dealing with some of the strengths that we already had to make them stronger. So, like Tommy said, we got the next six races, all those cars are sitting right there ready to rock. This time last year, even the year before, we wasn't like that. So even coming into Speedweeks, if we finished poorly today, I still would feel positive about the year.

Q. Could you talk a little bit about going to Rockingham this next week, which is a track you won at before?

WARD BURTON: We're excited about Rockingham. We finished sixth there last time. That was with a couple of guys that didn't pit, we had a caution. We felt like we had one of the cars to beat. So we're excited about that. Tommy and the guys, all the crew, we've learned a lot. I had to adjust a lot with the new Goodyear tire. We felt like the latter part of the year we started running like we needed to. Hey, we're excited about going to Rockingham. So hopefully we're going to get Tommy Baldwin back there so he can work on the Rockingham car before we get to Rockingham.

Q. I know you talked about you already know what the Daytona 500 means to you, but how long do you think it will take to sink in to what this actually means, not just to yourself but in Winston Cup as well?

WARD BURTON: It's going to take a while. You know, winning a race, even when we won last year, that was a big race for us, it took a day or two for that feeling to sink in of gratitude and accomplishment, feeling so good all the people that have helped you get to where you are. We've had so many people help us over the years. Me personally, Bill getting to where he's at. You know, what makes it so fun, all of us have done it together. We've all come from different backgrounds, but we all are like family, through the good and through the bad. We see the worst of each other and the best of each other. And that's what makes it so much -- that's what makes it so enjoyable for us.

Q. With this win today, Ward, have you thought about your place in racing history? You now have won two NASCAR signature events, the Southern 500 at Darlington, now the Daytona 500?

WARD BURTON: Not really. You know, we feel like if we do what we're capable of doing, we can be there at the end of the year. We want to get more consistent than we were last year, keep building on last year. Get back in the Top 10, hopefully Top 5, have a shot at winning more races. I feel like we're still growing, but we got the ingredients we need now to be a legitimate shot week-in and week-out. At the same time I'd be the first to say that there are some areas I need to improve on so we can be more consistent. But that's one of the areas that we'll keep working on.

Q. Tommy, a couple of folks have heard that Valentine's Day was pretty special to you. This might make a great engagement present today.

TOMMY BALDWIN: Yeah. You know, this whole week was pretty special. Bill Davis has given me the freedom to build my own dream, so to speak, with putting together a Busch team, brought a brand-new car down here, with David Green driving, qualified on the outside pole, run up front for most of the race, got caught up in a wreck. Thursday, I asked Beth Bruce, a former Miss Winston '91, to be my wife. Then we won the Daytona 500. It's been a pretty exciting week, pretty fast-paced week. I need to keep digging here (laughter).

MODERATOR: Thank you, guys.

WARD BURTON: Thank you.



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