ROCKINGHAM, N.C. (October 22, 2000) - After a one-week hiatus from Winston Cup action, Kurt Busch was once again behind the wheel of the No. 97 John Deere Ford, and this weekend he faced one of the most notorious one-mile tracks on the circuit, ...
ROCKINGHAM, N.C. (October 22, 2000) - After a one-week hiatus from Winston Cup action, Kurt Busch was once again behind the wheel of the No. 97 John Deere Ford, and this weekend he faced one of the most notorious one-mile tracks on the circuit, North Carolina Speedway. Busch qualified the John Deere Ford in the 24th-starting position for Sunday's race and after some early struggles on Friday, crew chief Jeff Hammond greeted Busch over the radio following his one-lap qualifying run stating, "Welcome to The Rock." This scripted movie reference became even more relevant on Sunday as 11 of the 43 drivers ended their day short of 400 miles, but Busch escaped with another top-25 finish in his fourth Winston Cup race.
The 393-lap race kicked off shortly before 1 p.m. EDT, and the John Deere team had a positive outlook entering the day's events as they ended Happy Hour practice on Saturday at the top of the speed chart. That had everyone eyeing the rookie wondering if he had so quickly discovered the secret of The Rock.
The race ran green until lap 99, the longest green-flag segment of the afternoon, when the first of nine caution periods developed. Busch was still racing on the lead lap and entered the pits for his second stop of the day in 27th place. The John Deere crew, fresh off of their 18th-place performance in the 34th Annual 76 World Championship Pit Crew Competition, put together a set of solid pit stops that kept Busch racing the leaders for most of the afternoon, and as the race went back to green on lap 107, Busch made a charge from the 28th position.
Busch raced the subsequent 50-lap segment making his way up field one at a time, fighting a tight-handling condition that would worsen as the race progressed. Pit stops were made during each of the next four caution periods, but the tight-handling condition persisted. Busch was forced to adapt and began experimenting to find the line in which his car handled best.
Busch ran on the lead lap until lap 317 when teammate Jeff Burton passed No. 97 Ford, and as the eighth caution came out on lap 322, Busch was unable to make up his lap as the leaders crossed the start/finish line before the green-and-yellow Ford. Busch had raced his way to 21st place when the caution flag waved for a pit fire in the stall adjacent to the No. 97 crew. While no crew members on the John Deere team were injured, the team was quick to aid in the clean up and then brought Busch in for a four-tire stop. Busch returned to the track in 21st and was leading all cars that were one lap down. With four cars racing for position, Busch finished the final 60 laps of the event trying to stay in front, but yielded to the leaders and finished the afternoon in 24th place.
Busch's 24tht-place finish keeps the No. 97 John Deere Ford in 21st position in the Winston Cup owner point standings, and with next weekend off, the crew will have time to catch their breath before the last three races of the 2000 season. The John Deere Motorsports team heads to Phoenix in two weeks for the November 5, running of the Checker Auto Parts/Dura Lube 500.
"We went out there today trying a couple of different racing lines and trying to find the ones that worked best. Some worked and some didn't. Still, we were able to come away with a 24th-place finish and we closed the gap to 20th place in the points. I know that the John Deere crew is looking to get back in the top 20 before the year is out, and I'm going to do my best to make that happen.
"The Rock was definitely a learning experience, and when we come back here next year I think we'll be better prepared for the challenge it poses. This is a tough place on rookies, but at least I can come back here next year and say that I've raced here before. That will put me one step ahead of some of these guys. Now it's off to Homestead for our final test before finishing out the Truck season in Fontana (Calif.). We're still learning and having fun, so as we look towards next year, I think this seven-race run will definitely make this team stronger."