DOVER, Del. (September 24, 2000) - Kurt Busch's first Winston Cup weekend was one he will not forget, and that's not just based on fact that he qualified the John Deere Ford in the 43-car field, a notable feat in itself. From a win on Friday in...
DOVER, Del. (September 24, 2000) - Kurt Busch's first Winston Cup weekend was one he will not forget, and that's not just based on fact that he qualified the John Deere Ford in the 43-car field, a notable feat in itself. From a win on Friday in the Craftsman Truck race to a 10th-place Winston Cup qualifying effort, to a late scrape against the Turn 4 wall during Happy Hour on Saturday, Busch did it all - and that was before the start of Sunday's MBNA.com 400.
The John Deere Motorsports team tested at Dover Downs International Speedway two weeks prior to this weekend's event and the extra track time seemed to pay dividends for the 22-year-old rookie. Taking the same car that was last raced to a 32nd-place finish in June at Michigan Speedway, Busch was the highest qualifying rookie in the field and posted the highest starting position for the No. 97 team in 2000 - 10th.
Locking into Sunday's race during first-round qualifying allowed the John Deere crew to focus their attention to race setup on Saturday, but the weather didn't fully cooperate as the remnants of Tropical Storm Helene blew through Delaware Saturday morning. Due to the missed practice time, NASCAR officials extended Happy Hour to two hours following the Busch Series race. Unfortunately, a late-session scrape against the outside wall caused the John Deere team to end Happy Hour 10 minutes early and forced the team to work overtime on Saturday repairing right-side sheet metal to the No. 97 Ford.
Still the show would go on, and the John Deere crew stepped up to the challenge, as did their driver. Busch started the 400 lap cautiously and slid into line around the one-mile concrete oval in 17th place. A few early caution flags helped to situate Busch in the cockpit of the car, and with each restart he gained confidence. After the fourth of eight caution periods ended on lap 51, Busch was poised to make his move. He began the subsequent 48-lap run in 29th position and climbed into 19th before the fifth caution flag slowed the pace of the field on lap 99. Busch used the caution period to enter the pits for fuel, tires and a slight air pressure adjustment in the tires. The John Deere Ford was loose off the corners early in the race so Jeff Hammond and the crew did their best to tighten up the car. With improved handling Busch made it as high as 14th before the sixth caution flag waved on lap 122, but he noticed that the track conditions were beginning to change as the sun made its way through the dark cloud cover. Undaunted, Busch stayed clam and drove his way up the field.
The break of the day, however, came on lap 253 as the eighth and final caution flag waved. Busch had just gone down a lap to race-leader Tony Stewart 10 laps prior, but stayed close enough to the No. 20 machine to regain his lap when the caution flag waved as he exited Turn 2, and Stewart slowed before crossing the start/finish line. Busch, now battling a tight-handling car with the changing weather conditions, pitted to make a chassis adjustment that included a spring rubber and track bar change and exited the pits in 19th, the last car on the lead lap.
Unexpectedly, Busch began fighting an even tighter-handling car after the aggressive chassis adjustments in the pits, but he maintained his composure on the track. Busch lost a lap to the leaders on lap 309, but with only 18 cars on the lead lap, he knew that he was capable of maintaining his spot on the track for the remainder of the event if the race ran green. Busch persevered as he tried various driving lines around the high-banked oval, and with each lap completed he came closer to achieving his goal of finishing his first Winston Cup race.
Busch kept the John Deere Ford out of trouble the final 90 laps and finished his first Winston Cup race in 18th position, and more importantly, got his first Winston Cup start under his belt. With the top-20 performance, the John Deere team remains in 21st place in the Winston Cup owner standings, 69 points out of 20th place. The team must now focus on Martinsville Speedway as Busch returns to the track where he picked up a 23rd-place finish during the Craftsman Truck race in April.
"What an unbelievable weekend. I came to Dover for the first time in my career and left with a victory in the truck race and also my first top-20 finish in Winston Cup. It wasn't easy though. We had to work for it this weekend, but as a team we were able to get it done. We came here wanting to qualify in the top 25, and we did that. We also wanted to finish the race to get as many laps as possible around here in a racing situation, and 398 (laps) out of 400 (laps) isn't too bad for as long as the race ran green at the end.
"Now we have Martinsville ahead of us and that's a different beast all together. It's short and flat, but I was able to get some experience on it earlier this year on the Truck Series. That will definitely help, but just like this weekend, the best thing we can do is go out there and run as many laps as we can and gain experience."