Mooresville, North Carolina -- Santerre-Reece Motorsports, a brand new NASCAR Busch Series team, stunned the Bristol crowd and racing industry alike, by using planned pit strategy to gain track position and put driver Andy Santerre at the front of...
Mooresville, North Carolina -- Santerre-Reece Motorsports, a brand new NASCAR Busch Series team, stunned the Bristol crowd and racing industry alike, by using planned pit strategy to gain track position and put driver Andy Santerre at the front of the pack to lead laps and show the depth of his new team in only their 2nd start together in the Cheez-It 250 at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday, March 24, 2001.
Andy Santerre, a Cherryfield, Maine native, didn't have the best qualifying effort, turning in the 29th fastest time of the 43-car field, but knew he had a well-balanced race car.
"We scheduled a test session here at Bristol last week," Santerre explained. "But the session got rained out and we weren't able to get on the track. We had a good base line setup, but weren't sure on the gear or shock package, so we spent the first prac tice trying to get those variables set." Santerre finishes, "We could make the car tight or loose, but our times never varied; 15.7 was all the car was going to run."
Still, Santerre and crew chief, Stan Meserve, weren't concerned. The car was extremely neutral and tire wear was consistent during their simulated long green-flag runs in happy hour practice. The car may not have been blistering fast, but their times didn 't drop off as drastically as the fast cars times did.
"I knew we were in good shape after happy hour," the 32-year old Santerre commented. "The car was so neutral, I could run the bottom for 50 laps and the times didn't vary more than a tenth, even on old tires." Santerre continues, "Since we weren't start ing toward the front, Stan (crew chief) and I knew we had to gain track position by pit strategy. I was pretty confident heading into the race."
Race morning technical inspection went without a hitch and the car was lined up on the starting grid. After Santerre was buckled in, he went to do a radio check prior to the invocation and found he couldn't hear the crew even though they could hear him. The crew quickly changed radios, earplugs and antennas, but it was determined the problem was in the helmet connection. However, the team could not get Santerre's back-up helmet as their hauler had to be parked outside the race track and was not readily a ccessible as there is no infield tunnel at Bristol.The gate was closed and Santerre was without a spotter for the toughest short track race of the season.
"Man, I was really concerned about the radio situation," Santerre confirmed. "You really need a second pair of eyes at Bristol because things happen in a hurry. But, we were in a situation where there was nothing I could do but drive so that is what I di d." Santerre adds, "My spotter let all the cars around me know I was without radio contact."
Santerre and crew chief, Stan Meserve, had discussed pit strategy prior to the race and knew their only chance for a strong finish was to stay out as long as possible and hope a caution would fall their way.
"We were pitted on the backstretch and knew our options were limited for track position," Crew Chief, Meserve said. "We had to stay out longer and hope a caution fell our way. There was a chance of rain as well and we were watching that pretty closely. No matter what, we knew we were staying out until half way."
Santerre took the lead from Jimmy Spencer with an inside pass on lap 76 and held off strong charges from Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth. Santerre lead for over 75 laps before getting caught by Harvick in lapped traffic. Without a spotter, Santerre was c autious around other cars and relinquished the lead to Harvick rather than take a chance.
"I didn't have another set of eyes, so maybe I was overly cautious around lapped cars," Santerre said. "I didn't want to wreck myself or the other leaders and I knew I was coming up on my pit window."
A caution flag flew on lap 163 which allowed Santerre to pit for four fresh tires and fuel. After a solid pit stop, Santerre came back on track in the 13th position. Within three laps of green flag racing, Santerre had worked his way up to 9th. His luc k would end at lap 188 however.
Santerre raced into turn three, a lapped car was on the inside and raced with Santerre into the corner, the two got together and spun. It was a disheartening end to a great run, but one that Santerre looks at in a positive light.
"Man, we lead over 75 laps at Bristol!" Santerre exclaimed! "We are a brand new team in only our second race and we proved we have a solid foundation by running up front for a majority of the race. I couldn't be happier with our showing here. We have rac ed two races this season and have legitimately raced in the top-five in both. We just need to keep digging and we'll get a finish before the year is out."
Santerre and the team communicated with hand signals throughout the race. The team lead a total of 76 laps, 50 in green-flag race conditions and 26 under caution. The late--race accident relegated Santerre to a 31st place finish. Santerre-Reece Motorspo rts plans to compete next at Nashville Superspeedway on April 14, 2001.