BRISTOL, Tenn. (August 26, 2000) - When it comes to racing at the .533-mile concrete oval in Bristol, Tenn., it's like a game of blackjack - 21 or bust. Bristol Motor Speedway is the last of the Winston Cup venues with two distinct pit roads, and...
BRISTOL, Tenn. (August 26, 2000) - When it comes to racing at the .533-mile concrete oval in Bristol, Tenn., it's like a game of blackjack - 21 or bust. Bristol Motor Speedway is the last of the Winston Cup venues with two distinct pit roads, and with only 21 pits on the frontstretch, the remaining 22 competitors find themselves at a disadvantage before the green flag drops. That makes qualifying one of the most important elements of the two-day show before the 500-lap race even starts. Dale Earnhardt proved in 1999 that the race could be won from the backstretch as he started from 26th to capture the checkered flag, but it's a rare feat and one the 43 competitors would like to avoid. Unfortunately for Chad Little and the John Deere crew, they found themselves facing a stacked decked as they pitted on the backstretch for Saturday's Goracing.com 500.
Little started Saturday's race under the lights in the 38th position and battled with handling issues from the start. Little and the John Deere team spent most of the night chasing handling problems that required a myriad of changes that included track bar, air pressure and spring rubber adjustments. Little lost an early lap to the leaders on lap 85 as he battled a loose-handling condition, but he took advantage of a caution on lap 91 to enter the pits to try to remedy the problem.
Little returned to the track in 38th position and would only run as high as 36th before the team pitted once again on lap 213. For Little and the No. 97 crew, this would be their fourth of 11 pit stops on the night and the only one that would come under green-flag conditions. Little entered the pits for four tires and fuel, but he stalled the No. 97 Ford, forcing the over-the-wall crew to push him down pit road to get the engine re-fired. Little returned to the track six laps down to the leaders, but as the cycle of green-flag stops concluded, Little would gain one of his laps back.
The race ran green for a total of 133 laps before the fifth of 13 caution flags appeared on lap 236. For Little, it was a chance to catch his breath and regain his composure. When the race resumed on lap 245, Little was in 38th position, but he was the only competitor in the field five laps down from the leaders. That meant for the remainder of the night, attrition would become Little's biggest ally on the track.
Little avoided on-track contact and mishaps that sent 11 competitors home before the conclusion of the 500-lap race. Little narrowly avoided one of the most spectacular wrecks of the night as he drove to the inside of the flaming No. 77 car on lap 397. The last 100 laps of the race were more about survival and less about track position as tempers flared and the action heated up around the high-banked oval. Little ended the night with all four fenders intact but would finish seven laps down to race-winner Rusty Wallace.
Little crossed the finish line in 30th position with his nearest competitors three laps ahead of him and four laps behind him. Little remains in the top 20 in the Winston Cup point standings, falling one position to 20th, 130 points outside of the top 15. Little and the John Deere Motorsports team return to action next Sunday at Darlington Raceway for the 24th race of the season, the Pepsi Southern 500.
"I'll tell ya, tonight's race seemed more like 1,000 laps and not 500. It makes for a difficult night when you go a lap down early, but there's always a chance that a lot of cars can go home before the end of the night. Unfortunately that became our strategy tonight. With Bristol being such a small race track, it basically becomes one continuous line of cars. You want to race clean, and when you go down more than one lap to the leaders you also don't want to take away from their battle. At that point you keep your nose clean and try to avoid all of the accidents. That's what we did tonight.
"I got a little overheated during the long green-flag run so when that caution came out on (lap) 236, it was a welcomed break. The car didn't handle as good as we expected, and that always takes more out of you. We struggled with the setup early in the weekend but finally made some progress going into Happy Hour. We will need to do some work to this car if we want to take it to another short track, but at least it's in one piece. There's nothing worse than being five laps down in a race and totaling a race car. We've got one we can still work with and that doesn't make this weekend a total loss."