HAMPTON, Ga. (November 20, 2000) - This weekend marked the end of an era and the start of a new one, as John Deere and crew chief Jeff Hammond said farewell to NASCAR Winston Cup competition and driver Kurt Busch closed out the 2000 season before...
HAMPTON, Ga. (November 20, 2000) - This weekend marked the end of an era and the start of a new one, as John Deere and crew chief Jeff Hammond said farewell to NASCAR Winston Cup competition and driver Kurt Busch closed out the 2000 season before becoming a full-time member and rookie contender in 2001. However, all three spent an extra day in Atlanta before embarking on their respective courses as rain delayed the scheduled running of the season-ending NAPA 500 until Monday morning. The rain started to fall Saturday afternoon and did not stop until late Sunday night making the 34th race of the season a four-day venture. While Happy Hour was washed out on Saturday, both qualifying sessions were held and Kurt Busch put the No. 97 John Deere Ford in the 43-car field on Friday, posting the 24th fastest time. With only two practice sessions and a two-day test at Atlanta Motor Speedway to serve as experience, the John Deere team spent countless hours while the rain fell contemplating setups and strategies. The first 100 laps of the race had five of the eight caution flags, and Busch and the John Deere team took advantage of two of the yellow flags to enter the pits. The team's first stop on lap 36 was a four-tire stop, while its second pit stop on lap 53 was a four-tire stop that netted Busch 15 spots on the track. When the fourth caution period ended on lap 60, Busch piloted the John Deere Ford from the 19th position hoping that the push the car developed late in the run was corrected. Busch would stay in the top 25 during the following 50-lap run and as the sixth caution flag waved on lap 110, Busch was shown in 24th position on the leader board. Showing signs of improvement not only on the track, the John Deere crew executed a flawless four-tire stop on their third attempt of the afternoon and sent Busch back on the track in 21st position. As the car's handling began to improve, Busch worked his way through the field and climbed to 13th position at the midpoint of the 325-lap race. The green-flag segment that followed saw Busch's best stretch run of the afternoon, moving the green-and-yellow machine into the top ten on lap 225. Busch radioed to the crew that while the car's handling was nearly impeccable, the water pressure was slowly dropping and the engine temperature was beginning to increase. Warranting concern, the team readied the water tank hoping that Busch could finish the final 100 laps without making an unscheduled stop. The problem persisted, and while Busch never fell below 13th place, the situation was of the utmost concern to the crew, hoping not only to finish the race but also to remain in the top 15. The green-flag stretch that began on lap 135 would last until lap 312, but the caution couldn't have come soon enough. Busch, while circling the 1.54-mile oval in 13th place was called into the pits on lap 299 for a splash of water injected into the engine's cooling system. A water hose malfunction forced the John Deere Ford into the pits twice and cost the team nine laps on the track. While the problem was fixed by the time the final caution flag waved on lap 312, the John Deere Ford had fallen to 36th place on the leader board, and was the only car nine laps off the pace. What seemed like a surefire top-15 finished with 26 laps remaining ended in a 36th-place finish, but by completing the race, Busch managed to take the checkered flag in all seven of his Winston Cup races a streak he hopes to continue well into the 2001 season.
Busch finished out the season 23rd in the Winston Cup owner point standings, and heads into 2001 with a new challenge, to capture Rookie-of-the-Year honors and his first Winston Cup victory. Busch's Quotes
"We had a problem with the car overheating and it forced us into the pits for an unscheduled stop with less than 25 laps to go. We thought we had a top-15 finish locked up, but those are the breaks sometimes. We deserved better than we finished today. We had good pit stops, solid restarts and a good-handling car. I think we proved we could run in the top-15, we just needed a little luck. Still, it was better to finish the race than chance having a problem out there and maybe affecting the race outcome. We'll have our chance and we'll have it soon enough. "I want to thank John Deere for their support in giving me my start in Winston Cup competition, and Jeff Hammond for providing experience and leadership to a young, aspiring team. We had some highs and lows over the seven-race stretch, but each time we went out there we learned something and that's something that will translate into success next year."