CONCORD, N.C., (May 26, 1999) News and notes from Wednesday's action at Lowe's Motor Speedway, site of Sunday's NASCAR Winston Cup Series Coca-Cola 600.

Mark Martin planned to use The Winston as a 70-lap test session for the brand new Ford Taurus he was going to run this weekend in the Coca-Cola 600. His plans changed though on lap 12 when he was involved in a multi-car accident which caused significant damage to the front and right side of the car. Although he will not be able to race JR-80 as originally planned, his chance of winning has not changed. The team has prepared JR-60 to race Sunday evening, the same car that won at Rockingham in February and finished 3td at Atlanta last November.

"I really wanted to run the new car on Sunday, but I think we will be just as good in JR-60," Martin said. "People always wonder whether it is a good idea to run your 600 car in The Winston. Sometimes it works out great, like last year when we won The Winston and then finished 4th the following week in the 600 with the same car.

"It didn't work out quite as well this year, but we knew we had a strong backup car in case something like this happened. This car won at Rockingham, and ran with the leaders at Texas until we blew a tire. The Valvoline/Cummins team will still be tough, no matter what car we bring."

Ernie Irvan has a combined total of 29 NASCAR Winston Cup Series starts at Charlotte. Nineteen of his starts were points events, with 10 starts being in The Winston all-star event. Irvan's first career top-10 finish on the circuit came at Lowe's Motor Speedway. In only his 2nd career start, while driving for Marc Reno in 1987, Irvan started 36th and finished 8th at the 1.5-mile track. He also got his 9th career victory at here on Oct. 10, 1993.

"I have had a lot of success at Charlotte, and we think Charlotte is the perfect place for the M&Ms Racing team to turn our season around," Irvan said. "The Coca-Cola 600 is a long race and it takes a lot of patience as a driver to make it through the entire race. You also need to have a good car that can make it all 600 miles and still be strong at the end. I'm sure the M&Ms Pontiac will be strong and we're looking for a positive weekend."

Jimmy Dean Pontiac driver Derrike Cope hopes to encounter dTja vu as he prepares for Sunday's Coca-Cola 600. Cope was the last driver to earn a points-race Bud Pole at the 1.5-mile superspeedway during last October's UAW-GM Quality 500. While he would enjoy sitting on the pole again, Cope believes a top-20 effort would help turn the Bahari' Racing team's season around.

"At this point, I don't think we'd have to win a pole," Cope said. "Right now, a top-20 qualifying effort would make us feel like we're getting back on track. If we can go to Charlotte and qualify in the top-15 or the top-20, that would be a great motivator. We need that stepping stone."

Over his career, Cope has shown well in Coca-Cola 600. He has 10 top-20 finishes in 15 career starts in the series' longest race, including a personal best 9th-place finish in 1990. Three weeks ago, Cope posted the 12th-fastest speed among nearly 30 GM drivers that tested at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

"We are in the same boat this year as last year," Cope said. "We haven't been to the wind tunnel because we haven't been able to schedule time, so we really haven't pinpointed our needs yet, but our test session went well again. We weren't the fastest by any means, but we had great laps. We were in the hunt, I thought, and I think with an actual qualifying motor coming back and a better lap we could surprise some people and remind them of last year."

Source: NASCAR Online