Atlanta: Ken Schrader preview

"OH SO CLOSE" -- BAM RACING MISSES RACE BY 0.034 SECOND 90-minute practice too quick to learn what new Goodyear tires need HAMPTON, Ga. (March 9, 2008) -- After a great showing in Las Vegas last week, Ken Schrader and the BAM Racing crew...

90-minute practice too quick to learn what new Goodyear tires need

HAMPTON, Ga. (March 9, 2008) -- After a great showing in Las Vegas last week, Ken Schrader and the BAM Racing crew were looking forward to a good showing in Atlanta. Every team struggled to make their cars handle on the 1.54 mile D-shaped oval, and the Dodge was no exception. Despite a focused, relentless effort by the team in the 90-minute practice session, the new Goodyear tires proved extremely difficult to work around. The team was able to make 8 separate runs but they could have used more time to get the car even better. Unfortunately all the effort didn't show this weekend as Schrader's qualifying effort was just 0.034 second too slow and due to the past champion's provisional, the BAM Racing Dodge was the first car to miss the race.

The Garage Area in Atlanta opened at 9:00 a.m. on Friday morning. At 8:58 every truck driver was standing at the back of their transporter with the wench control in their hand -- waiting to lower their doors and unload. Outside the gate, several hundred crewman were huddled together anxiously waiting to get to work. Inside, the garages themselves were completely barren with only floors, lights, open doors and empty space. At 9:00 sharp, the NASCAR officials gave the word and as the back doors of the transporters swung down, the crewmen swarmed inside and a flurry of activity began. Within twenty minutes, the transformation was complete; every tool box was in place inside the garage, scales were set-up and leveled, and cars were in line for inspection. Change happens fast in NASCAR.

For the BAM Racing team, part of the crew unloaded the transporter, several guys set up the garage area while another crew member, John Stewart, supervised the mounting of tires while checking air pressures and circumferences. Finally, four other members guided the Dodge through all the various inspection stations; two separate template stations, the height sticks, the scales, etc. As in most sports, preparation pays off and the Dodge was properly set-up to pass all inspections. For the first five races of the year, the inspection order is determined by the previous year's points finish, so the team was the 49th car through inspection -- this took the majority of the morning. After clearing inspection, cross weights and ride heights were checked, vulnerable areas were marked to test for dragging on the track and cool water was added to the radiator. Everything was ready.

Sprint Cup practice was scheduled for 3:00 until 4:30 p.m. Schrader's first excursion on the track didn't last a full lap. Schrader keyed the mike and reported, "It is undrivably loose!" After quick adjustments, the second trip around the speedway resulted in a lap of 31.601 seconds. Schrader said, "It never stuck the front end." Crew Chief David Hyder instructed the crew, "Put the 1st set of tires back on and change the air." Run 3 resulted in a lap of 32.008 and these comments, "It's free turning in but when it loads it pushes the nose." Run 4 delivered a lap of 31.677 and this dissection from Schrader, "Free-er in, when you get in the front bottoms the track and then it's tight."

On it went, back and forth throughout practice. The problem was that Goodyear brought a left side tire with a new construction and a right side tire with an all new compound. This resulted in every team chasing set-ups and virtually every driver complaining about how their car was handling. This was exacerbated by the fact that of Atlanta Motor Speedway's 1.54 mile distance, for an entire mile the car is turning, so handling is crucial. In between each run, the BAM Racing crew would jump into action, changing shocks or springs, track bar or front end settings -- the possibilities were almost limitless.

Run 5 was 32.646 seconds, run 6 on new tires was 31.399 -- Schrader said, "It was too loose center out, but the best it's been." Run 7 was 31.720 and run 8 with less than 5 minutes left in practice was 31.719. Even on the last run of the day, the crew couldn't suit the car to the tires. Schrader reported, "Hit pretty good getting into 1, looser than crap coming off."

Practice is typically followed by a brainstorming session between crew chief David Hyder, suspension specialist, Dean Johnson, engineers Chad Kohn and Hoyt Overbaugh, general manager Eddie Jones and driver Ken Schrader. All the notes from practice are compared and a decision is made on what direction to go for qualifying. As practice ended, the Dodge was the seventh quickest of the cars that had to get in based on speed, and thus in the field. But with Kurt Busch in the Miller Dodge No. 2 and Dale Jarrett in the UPS Toyota No. 44 slower in practice, the team knew qualifying would be tight.

Qualifying started on time at 6:40 p.m. with a weather front closing in on the speedway, After 14 cars had made runs, a light rain caused a red flag. Had qualifying been rained out, the Dodge would be in the field by virtue of its 41st position in owner's points. Instead, the rain subsided and qualifying resumed. Schrader was the last car to attempt qualifying and his first lap wasn't quick enough to make the field. On lap 2 he attacked turn 1 by driving in hard, jumping all the way up to around 5th quickest. But the aggressive entry adversely affected his exit off turn 2. Turns 3 and 4 looked good, but ultimately at the line, he was 0.034 second too slow to make the field. Although Schrader had outrun 5 of the 48 cars, Dale Jarrett had a champion's provisional to fall back on, so Jarrett was given the final starting spot instead of Ken Schrader.

After a non-stop day full of hard work by the crew and driver, it was a bitter disappointment to miss the event. However, it is from adversity that you see what a team is made of and every person on the BAM Racing team is resolved to buckle down and put forth even more effort going forward. Also, the team was pleased that they retained their 41st position in owner's points, so that if qualifying should be rained out in Bristol, the Dodge would still be in the race. Historically, Bristol Motor Speedway is a good racetrack for both BAM Racing and Ken Schrader, so the team is looking to rebound with a good qualifying effort and a good run in the race next weekend.

-credit: bam

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Jarrett , Ken Schrader , Kurt Busch , John Dean