Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Trying to fathom the Ward Burton mania

There’s an interesting fascination with a driver who’ll be trying to make his first Nextel Cup start in a long time at Martinsville this weekend.
It has been almost two full seasons, since the race at Phoenix in November 2004, since Ward Burton took the green flag for a Cup race. His last top-five finish came four years ago Friday on Oct. 20, 2002, when he was fifth at Martinsville in the Bill Davis-owned No. 22 Dodge.
But people everywhere still want to know about Ward. At Daytona in July, I ran into him in the garage area and walked along talking to him about his desire to come back to the Cup series. He said he thought he had a sponsor just about lined up and was looking to find the right team to go with so he could be competitive.
As we walked along, I told him that there’s hardly a week that goes by without me getting a question either in person on via e-mail about his status. “The fans love you,” I told him.
About that time, we turned the corner of the garage and began walking along underneath Daytona’ “Fan Walk” area. As soon as people saw Ward, they started yelling at him.
“Ward, when are you coming back?” they said. “Ward, we miss you.” I looked at him and said, “I told you.”
I wasn’t at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the start of this week’s Cup test down there on Monday, but I did hear a clip of a media interview with Chase for the Nextel Cup points leader Jeff Burton, who’s Ward’s younger brother.
Guess what the first question to Jeff was? It wasn’t about his third-place finish at Lowe’s Motor Speedway or about his lead in the standings. It was about Ward’s “comeback.”
Jeff Burton said he was glad to see his brother get a shot because he knows how much Ward wants to come back. “I want for him what he wants,” Jeff told the reporters.
I could overanalyze this phenomenon and come up with all sorts of explanations for the Ward-mania some fans seem to have. But I think the reasons are pretty simple.
First, I think fans believe Ward Burton is just a good guy. His accent, of course, makes him stand out from the crowd. In college one time, a guy from New England told me “I just love to hear you talk.” I told him that as long as we were in the South, I wasn’t the one with the accent. But no matter how Southern you think you are, Ward Burton’s accent is unique.
There’s also the fact that Ward has been around a while, and I think fans enjoy seeing somebody who’s old enough to have been able to vote in more than one presidential election get a shot these days. Ward will turn 45 on Oct. 25th, and that’s significant when you consider that his brother, at 39, is the oldest driver who’s won a Nextel Cup race this year.
The first job for Ward will be to get the No. 4 Chevrolet into Sunday’s race. Martinsville’s a good place for him to try that, since he started second, fourth and sixth in his previous three races there before the two-year hiatus.


Monkeesfan said...

The problem is that fans want team owners to hire Ward Burton on sentiment. That Burton has been out of the sport for nearly two years and is thus two years behind the technology curve is a stake against him as a racer right now. There is a reason why teams didn't try to hire Ward earlier.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Mike, Ward is too far behind the Technology curve to be competitive! There are many willing drivers to fill current seats, from the Truck series and Busch series, It gets me by the short hairs when a driver thinks it's beneath him to race in Busch or Truck...I say see ya later

Anonymous said...

Did you know that Ward and Jeff have both driven car number 31? Can you guess the sponsor when Ward drove it?

okla21fan said...

Not exactly a hot market for 45 year old drivers that haven't scored a top 5 in 4 years. I would be very sleptical if I was an owner in serch of a driver, but then again, owners are looking at motorcycle racers these days.

Anonymous said...

What I would really like to see is Ward test in his brothers car for a few days. We will never know any other way if it is the driver or the team. I for one wil;l welcome him back for the simple reason "he is entertaining" and a real nice guy.

Anonymous said...

Ward has spent his whole career driving crap equipment. He has never had a day at the track with the type of ride most of these snotty nose brats enjoy.

Ward fans are the nascar base, we are the guys nascar wants to get away from, Ward included. We built this sport and we will be here long after these fly by night fans have left.

Just look at Mark Martin, I see all these people sayin if your 40 you can't get the job done, well there are a lot of us over 40 out here getting the job done everyday.

Now the sponsors want some teenage punk in a ride to sell something. That's not the same thing as getting the job done.

You see it's just these newbie fans that think Ken Schrader can't drive cause they have no idea what money does to these teams. Half the cars in the field each week aren't even in the same class and some of those cars still manage to sneak in a good finish. When all the older drivers are in crap equipment it's easy to say they can't cut it.

Ward is a first class wheelman, I know a lot of fans out there only know what hear on TV each week and I hate to break the news to ya, but most of you don't know squat about racing and I see some of you are even posting here.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure how Ward will do, but when young men can come in the sport and go to a tough track (Pocono) and play a video game to get a feel for the track (I'm sorry, track simulation software) and win the race (Denny Hamlin), that tells me that past experience may not play a huge part in success today. It's all about equipment and this weekend Ward will not have it with the #4 car. But, I hope his experience can make a difference and put him in the race.
I do not understand the big deal about Ward Burton coming back, but I am a sucker for the underdog, and Ward is just that.

Unknown said...

The Hardee's car owned by Alan Dillard Jr. was Ward's ride in his first season and a half in Cup. It was the No. 31

Anonymous said...

Response to anonymous:

It was Hardee's.

Monkeesfan said...

anonymous (#6 comment),

I don't think anyone denies that Ward Burton has racing talent; he could do well at Martinsville this weekend. You bring up Mark Martin without noting that Martin has stayed in the sport and thus kept up with the technology curve. If Burton had stayed in the sport in 2005 and 2006 he'd be further along that curve than he presently is.

I don't disagree that the pinkhat crowd that NASCAR has been trying to attract will not stay with the sport once the "chic" quality wears off.

Paul Stagg said...

I had the opportunity to spend 10 minutes taliing one on one with Jeff Burton last year (I am employed by one of his sponsors, and he was attending an event of ours). I gotta admit, it was one of the first questions I asked him.

BTW, Jeff Burton is a hell of a nice guy.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous hit the nail right on the head. Na$car wants to turn it's back of folks like Ward who built this sport. He's not some young snot nosed punk with perfect speech and perfect teeth and perfect hair. For God's sake, he's a damn race car driver. But that doesn't cut the mustard in Pope Brian's world. Na$car has truly gone to the dogs. Here's to you Ward. Hope you make the show at Mville and blow a ton of those "glamor boys" away! Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Put simply, Ward is a far better driver than his brother Jeff.

Anonymous said it best. Give them equal equipment and Ward will outrun Jeff every day of the week.

Anonymous said...

As a longtime Ward Burton fan, it's not his talent or stats that endear him to his fans. It's HIM. He's loyal, sometimes to his own detriment.

Anonymous said...

"One could even say that when Hamlin took over the 11 ride, it was 'crap equipment' as well (based solely on the team's results)"

I think your stupidity is hangin out....
the worst cars on the Gibbs, RCR, HMS and RR are better than most of the field.

Go jump in a BDR and finish in the top 10 in points, I haven't seen anyone else do that since Ward.

Monkeesfan said...

anonymous #16 -

"Go jump into a BDR car and finish in the top ten in points." With Toyota backing, they may do just that.

Monkeesfan said...

thurman1515, yes there is quite a bit of "those were the days" syndrome. It's not necessarily bad, but we do have to be mindful of where the past works in the present and where it doesn't.

Anonymous said...

Whether Ward's still got it, I can't say, but I have noticed how few owners win races these days. HMS, RR, JGR, RCR and Evernham are really the top flight organizations, with DEI and Penske a notch below that. Yates used to be up there, but they're rarely a threat to win races anymore.

I'm wondering, who was the last driver to win a race that wasn't driving for one of the above organizations? Was it Ricky Craven at Darlington? Ward at Daytona? I don't know. I know the circuit needs stars, but a good fluke victory would be nice now and again, too.

Monkeesfan said...

anonymous #19 - off the top of my head, the last driver driving for a team other than those you mentioned was Craven at Darlington, driving for Cal Wells; the win was Pontiac's last win in Winston Cup. Indeed, the last victory in Winston Cup that can be considered an upset was Dale Jarrett at Talladega in 2005.

We may, however, see an "upset" winner in Bobby Labonte and the #43 before the end of the year the way Labonte and Paul Andrews have hit the track full-speed since NHIS.

Monkeesfan said...

Further to anonymous #19, a rough liost of organizations that have won Winston Cup races in this decade -

JOE GIBBS RACING - #18, #20, #11
ROUGH PERFORMANCE RACING - #6, #16, #17, #97, #99
RCR ENTERPRISES - #3/29, #31
EARNHARDT INC. - #8, #1, #15
HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS - #24, #25, #48, #5

Monkeesfan said...

My spelling sucks -

It should be ROUSH, not ROUGH.


Anonymous said...

monkeyfan-I think you had it right the first time.Rough.
Back to Ward..He did it, and I am so looking forward to the race. I'm not expecting the car to finish great because Ward can only do so much with what he has to drive. I will be watching (if tv will allow)to see how the driver does. Big difference. A top 35 will be quite acceptable, 30=excellent, 25=awsome 20= fantastic. Any thing better and the sponsors should be lining up.

Anonymous said...

As an #88 fan since '96 I'd love to see Ward with RYR next year. I like Ward. After his first win at Rockingham years ago in the old BD #22 Pontiac he and the team celebrated with wings and beer at the shop. You have to like people like that. Plus, he hunts and talks like a Rebel racer should. With Ward you know he spends the week in the woods, not NYC.

Anonymous said...

was there a eatting contest