TALLADEGA, Ala. (April 16, 2000) - The nine-week stretch of consecutive Winston Cup races dating back to the season-opening Daytona 500 came to a close this weekend after the running of the DieHard 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. But for Chad ...
TALLADEGA, Ala. (April 16, 2000) - The nine-week stretch of consecutive Winston Cup races dating back to the season-opening Daytona 500 came to a close this weekend after the running of the DieHard 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. But for Chad Little and the John Deere Motorsports crew, they head into the off weekend extending their season-long streak of nine races without a DNF (Did Not Finish). It was a strong performance by the team all weekend long, but misfortune struck down their attempts at a top-10 finish. After an all-too-familiar weather system passed Friday afternoon, dumping rain on the 2.66-mile facility, Little qualified the John Deere Taurus under the lights, guiding the No. 97 machine to a 14th-place starting position. The two-lap qualifying run was not one of luck, as the John Deere team was fastest in the first practice session on Friday, and ended Happy Hour on Saturday as the sixth-fastest car. As far as the team was concerned, they had a contender. Little lost the lead draft early in the 188-lap race on Sunday, but choosing to stay out of trouble, Little slowly worked his way back up front. The first 80 laps were surprisingly clean, as most of 43-car field decided it was too early to make a run at the checkered flag. Little entered the pits on lap 59 for his first pit stop of the afternoon under green-flag conditions. Running in 26th before the first round of pit stops, crew chief Jeff Hammond made the call for two tires. The strategic move paid immediate dividends as the John Deere Ford went back on the track in ninth position. Little spent the next 20 laps circling NASCAR's biggest track solidly in the top five. Just as the team began preparing for their second stop of the afternoon, Little radioed into the pits on lap 89 that he picked up a vibration in one of the wheels. The next time across the stripe, Little backed out of the throttle as the problem persisted, signaling to all that a tire was beginning to go down. Before Little was able to circle into the pits, the left front tire went down, and unfortunately, the race was still being run under green-flag conditions. Little drove the car into the pits, but over the course of repairs, he lost two laps to the leaders and the all-important draft. Inevitably, the draft caught back up to Little on lap 120, putting the green-and yellow-machine down yet another lap. Little found himself in 38th position, but was able to maintain his spot in the draft, keeping him in contention for a top-25 finish if situations played his way, and more importantly the points that go along with that finish. The third of four caution flags waved on lap 137, and with it 14 cars were collected in a skirmish on the frontstretch. Little was able to avoid the accident, and advanced eight positions with some defensive driving tactics. Little finished out the race at times aiding teammates Mark Martin and Jeff Burton with some drafting help, and as the checkered flag waved, Little ended the race in 25th place, picking up 88 points on the afternoon. Little's 25th-place performance dropped him one position in the Winston Cup point standings to 16th, but he sits outside of the top 15 by only eight points. The John Deere Motorsports team gets a well-deserved weekend off, as the next Winston Cup race will take place on April 30 at California Speedway with the running of the California 500.
"We had a real competitive car, and we showed that all weekend long. From the first practice to Happy Hour on Saturday, we were consistently running in the top 10. We've got one of the best superspeedway programs going, but we just haven't had a bit of luck the past few times we've raced here. As soon as I felt the vibration in the wheel, I got out of the throttle, which was the thing I needed to do to keep from shredding the tire. That kept the damage to the John Deere Taurus to a minimum, allowing us to finish the race, but it also kept it from being an incident involving any of the other competitors. "Even once we went back on the track, we were able to hang in the lead draft, but at the end we let the guys racing for the win go at it. Taking a look at the damage after the race, the car seemed to be in pretty good shape, except for some minor damage to the left-front fender. This car may end up being the primary car at Daytona in July, and it's one that I'm excited to drive again. "We have next weekend off, and with that we'll sit down and the evaluate the season up until now. From that meeting, we should be able to pinpoint our strengths and weaknesses, and work on them when the next stretch of races starts after Easter. I'm still excited about our prospects the next couple of races, and expect to see some great things from this John Deere team after the holiday."