Thursday, July 4, 2002
Daytona 500 champ winless since
By Rupen Fofaria ESPN.com
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Maybe Ward Burton realized it was just too soon to celebrate.
The 40-year-old Danville, Va., native had just won the Super Bowl race of
NASCAR and he hardly cracked a smile. No hootin'. No hollerin'. Just a
trophy presentation, a hat dance and the usual formalities.
Sixteen races later, it's evident there was no real reason to
celebrate. After winning the 500, Burton has posted only one other top
10 -- at Atlanta back in March -- and has finished outside the top 20 a
remarkable 10 times. All of this leaves him mired in 25th in the points
standings as he, along with the rest of the Winston Cup Series, returns
to Daytona International Speedway this weekend.
"We can turn things around this weekend and get back to being
competitive," Burton said. "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."
Burton called the festivities that surrounded his Daytona 500 victory
draining. An intense month of testing in January, two weeks of sweating
over every little thing on the race car and four hours of racing in the
most anticipated event of the year tends to do that to a guy.
Bill Davis, top, and Ward Burton have not celebrated much since winning the Daytona 500.
As a result, though, the team had little juice left to carry over to
Rockingham the next weekend, where they finished 13th. The team followed
that effort up with a 21st-place finish in Las Vegas and what started as
a little drift of difficulties here and there snowballed into a
confidence problem with the entire No. 22 Dodge team, which has finished
30th, 42nd, 37th, 33rd, 42nd and 40th in its past six points races.
Ironically, this track Burton left surprisingly cool and calm
after his big victory is now generating much more excitement for him and
the rest of the crew.
"I think this can be the race to get our confidence back and get us
heading in the right direction," Burton's crew chief Tommy Baldwin said.
"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."
Burton is not the first to encounter a slump after winning the Daytona
500. Last year, Michael Waltrip got his first career points victory in
the Daytona 500, but has not won a race since. Dale Jarrett won the 500
in 1999, then went most of the rest of the season winless, finally
collecting one more checkered in November.
"It's definitely the thrill of a lifetime," Jarrett said of winning the
Daytona 500. "But then you have to turn around and run the rest of the
season. You spend a month concentrating on one race and then, just like
that, it's over and you're supposed to move on to the next race. It's tough."
Still, having won the biggest race of the year made this season a
success for Bill Davis Racing and the 22 car's sponsor, Caterpillar, no
matter how badly the rest of the season goes.
Because of the million-dollar payday that comes with the 500 victory,
Burton has earned the second-most money this year. With more than $2.8
million, Burton is less than $400,000 behind Mark Martin in winnings and
23 places behind him in the points standings.
But Burton isn't content resting on those laurels. Money means a lot to
team owners and business folk. Race car drivers want to win.
"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," Burton
said. "It really is an awesome feeling winning a race, but there is a
special feeling that goes along with winning the Daytona 500."
Rupen Fofaria is a beat writer for the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer.