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Davis has 'something to prove'

After 5 years of struggle, Batesville car owner hopes for big things by Steve Rogers | February 17, 2007 at 2:12 a.m.

— Win, lose or crash, Batesville's Bill Davis remains as easygoing as anyone in the NASCAR garage.

Entering his 15th year as a Nextel Cup car owner, he remains one of the most well-liked and respected figures in the sport. It spawns from a quiet, humble attitude that he and his wife, Gail, employ at their track and in the rest of their lives as well.

But even Davis confesses that he embarks on the 2007 season with somewhat of a perma-scowl.

"I hope I always have a chip on my shoulder," he said. "But yeah, we've got something to prove. A lot of people have written us off and written some pretty nasty things."

After winning the Daytona 500 with Ward Burton in 2002, Davis' teams won once more that season and have no victories since. There have been two top-five finishes since 2004- a third by Scott Wimmer in the 2004 Daytona 500 and a fourth by Dave Blaney last fall at Richmond, Va.

But Davis said he is confident 2007 will open a new era for his race team.

"We think we have the people, the tools, the sponsors, certainly the manufacturer to get back to where we think we need to be," he said. "We want to be and think we canbe in a position to win a race like we were a few years ago.

"It was just five years ago that we won here, and we finished in the top 10 in points two years in a row."

During the five years since the Daytona 500 victory with Burton, Davis teams rarely have contended for victories. Because of that, many fans and most media members have pushed those teams into a status of backmarker.

Davis said that while his teams have fallen on hard times, neither he nor his employees ever viewed it as a permanent drop.

"We tend to think we are underrated," Davis said. "We are probably the most underrecognized teams in the garage.

"I have to remind people sometimes that this was a top-10 team. When we were winning races, that wasn't a fluke. We were a solid race team, and we'll be there again."

Davis will field two of the seven fulltime teams driving the new Toyota Camrys this season. Blaney returns for his second season in the No. 22 Caterpillar car. Davis also hired Jeremy Mayfield at the end of the2006 season, and he will pilot the No. 36 360 OTC-sponsored car.

Most of Davis' newfound confidence stems the switch from Dodge to Toyota.

"We've never been in this good of shape going into a season," he said.

Davis has bounced around the different car manufacturers since he first entered the sport as a car owner in the 1980s. He originally built Fords for Batesville's Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon in the Busch Series, then utilized Pontiacs for seven seasons when he first moved to Cup. Then came the Dodges in 2000 and now the Toyotas.

Davis has been without factory support from Dodge for more than three years. After it discovered Davis was helping Toyota in 2003 in their impending foray into the truck series, Dodge yanked its support of Davis' teams. There was a lawsuit, and a judge ruled Davis owed $6.5 million in damages to Dodge.

An undisclosed settlement was reached in November, and Davis dropped an appeal.

But before any of the ugliness, Davis said, his teams were handcuffed by an inferior car.

"It wasn't a good car or a good engine package," he said. "Then the situation we were in with the manufacturer was not something that made things any better either.It's been a tough three years."

During the struggles and litigation, it would have been easy for Davis and his wife to return to Arkansas to their successful trucking business and cattle farms around Batesville. But that was something that Davis' pride and work ethic would not allow.

"We've certainly been survivors over the past 30 years," he said. "We've had some hard times, some lean years. That is for certain.We're at a point where we need to be competitive again, and I don't have any doubt that we will."

But the season has not had the rosy start Davis had envisioned. Blaney has been strong throughout Daytona Speedweeks, but he broke a transmission in his 150-mile qualifier Thursday and will start 37th in Sunday's Daytona 500.

Worse yet was Mayfield's debut with Bill Davis Racing. After being one of the quickest Toyotas in testing and practice, he struggled in time trials and was not able to transfer into the 500 field Thursday. The No. 36 team is already back at the Davis complex in High Point, N.C., preparing for next week's race at Fontana, Calif.

A third team, which will race part time in Nextel Cup with driver Mike Skinner, blew an engine Thursday and also did not make the 500 field.

"We have not had a good Speedweeks so far," Davis said. "I think the 22 [Blaney] will be fast Sunday. But the 36 team did not have a good effort at all. I'm sorry for Jeremy and I'm embarrassed for our sponsors and partners. That team is much better than that and showed it all week."

Still, Davis' company continues to be respected throughout the stock-car racing industry. He fields three Toyota teams in the Craftsman Truck Series, each of which are championship contenders.

Also, there is Triad Racing Development, a division of Bill Davis Racing. It builds all of the chassis for the Toyota teams in NASCAR, as well as the majority of the Toyota engines used in the truck series. It also constructs all of the Toyota engines used in the Busch Series and ARCA.

Entering the season, Davis said his teams can put a stamp on the top of the sport as well.

"We weren't ever going to quit," he said. "That wasn't going to happen. We stuck it out, and now we think we're back where we want to be."

Sports, Pages 23, 32 on 02/17/2007

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