Kenseth hits wall in Atlanta test
HAMPTON, Ga. (Oct. 22, 1998) Sixteen NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division drivers took part in an important test session Wednesday in preparation for the Stihl 300 on Nov. 7. For Matt Kenseth, the impact of the race became a reality as he slammed the wall with both ends of his car entering Turn 3, skidding 855 feet before coming to rest on the apron between Turns 3 and 4.
"That was our car for the race," said Kenseth, who had turned the fastest lap of the session at 184.430 mph. "We had good runs all day long and in the final lap, I just got too close to the outside wall and lost it."
Ironically, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., the man Kenseth is pursuing for the series championship, wrecked in the exact spot during a test session in late January. Earnhardt said that he was also running his final lap of the day when he wrecked entering Turn 3.
"I guess Dale Jr. and I have something in common at Atlanta Motor Speedway now," Kenseth said. "Our driving ability here, or lack of it, is the same. The Stihl 300 should be interesting."
The Stihl 300, rescheduled from March 7, will be the first race for the NASCAR Busch Series on the 1.54-mile quad-oval since the track was reconfigured following the PRIMESTAR 500 weekend in March 1997. Testing for the Stihl 300 has become even more critical now that the race is the prelude to the 1998 NASCAR Busch Series finale.
"This track is a wild ride," said Mike McLaughlin, winner of the All Pro Bumper to Bumper 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Oct. 3. "Your car has got to be right to run good here. If your car's just a little off, you'll get left (behind). That's why testing is so crucial here, especially now that the race can have such an impact on the points championship."
After using gas mileage strategy to win at Charlotte earlier this month, it was expected that McLaughlin might bring out the same car for the Stihl 300. But McLaughlin surprised everyone in the garage area on Wednesday by bringing a brand new car to test at the speedway.
"This is a new car, but it's built almost identical to the one that we ran in Charlotte," McLaughlin said. "But this is going to be our backup. We're going to bring the Charlotte car here as our primary car for the Stihl 300."
McLaughlin currently sits in third place, 306 points behind leader Earnhardt, Jr. and 204 behind second-place Kenseth. McLaughlin was 14th-fastest in the session, turning in a lap of 177.755 mph.
"We need some help to catch those guys," he said. "We're a little slow right now, but we'll be competitive in the race."
After more than a four-year absence, 1990 NASCAR Busch Series champion Chuck Bown will attempt to make his return to Atlanta in the Stihl 300. Bown will drive a car fielded by Mac Martin Motorsports. Martin, a long-time NASCAR Busch Series car owner who fielded cars for another series champion, Larry Pearson, is also making a return to the circuit after a short absence. He was seventh-fastest in the test session, posting a speed of 179.533 mph.
"It feels good to be back in Atlanta," Bown said. "I haven't seen this place in a while, and I'm excited about running on the new configuration with such a great team."
Other speeds posted (in order of fastest speed recorded) were: 2. Joe Nemechek 184.235 mph; 3. Mark Krogh 181.180; 4. Ed Berrier 180.473; 5. Lyndon Amick 179.880; 5.(tie) Lance Hooper 179.880; 8. Elton Sawyer 178.950; 9. Kevin Schwantz 178.388; 10. Blaise Alexander 178.091; 11. Matt Hutter 178.983; 12. Jason Keller 178.504; 13. Casey Atwood 177.818; 15. Toby Porter 177.684; 16. Eric Jones 176.742.
Source: NASCAR Online