Bristol: Ken Schrader race report

CRASH SPOILS A GREAT RUN IN BRISTOL Schrader was consistently one of the fastest cars on track BRISTOL, Tenn. (March 16, 2008) -- Qualifying for the Food City 500 was rained out on Friday, so the starting line-up was based on ...

Schrader was consistently one of the fastest cars on track

BRISTOL, Tenn. (March 16, 2008) -- Qualifying for the Food City 500 was rained out on Friday, so the starting line-up was based on points positions. This meant the Dodge would start on the inside of the twenty-second row in 41st position at Bristol's fast half-mile oval. Using pit strategy to improve track position, Ken Schrader progressed as high as 11th in the field before getting caught up in an accident on lap 189. After repairs Schrader returned to the track and turned lap times faster than the leaders. The BAM Racing Team proved their mettle by completing the entire race, despite being 80 laps down. Schrader unfortunately finished where he started, in 41st position.

Friday's 90 minute practice session was once again a pressure-cooker for the Sprint Cup teams trying to master Bristol's high banks. After several runs, Schrader found himself in 16th position out of 46 entries. However, he had yet to have a single lap without interference from another car. Although the practice was eventually shortened by rain, the car finally managed a clean lap and posted the 6th quickest practice speed. The BAM Racing team was excited about their qualifying prospects. Rain would have secured the team a place in last Sunday's Kobalt Tools 500, this time rain cancelled qualifying and relegated the Dodge to 41st starting position.

With rain predicted for Saturday too, teams were grateful to get in two full practice sessions to prepare for 500 laps on Sunday. Schrader consistently reported a "tight" (understeer) condition in the middle of the turns. After adjustments he reported being tight from the center off. As practice ended Schrader confessed, "We're really good, I'm just trying to make it perfect!"

As the race started on Sunday, everyone on the BAM crew was expecting good things, despite their 41st starting spot. When Jeremy Mayfield and Ryan Newman had to drop to the rear, the Dodge progressed two spots before the race even began. With one lap to go until the green flag, crew chief David Hyder keyed his mike and coached, "Okay Boss, get your tires warmed up there and let's get ready."

Schrader loves racing at the high-banked Bristol Motor Speedway and he quickly began showing his prowess. He moved up to 38th on lap 7, then to 37th on lap 18. On lap 19 he reported, "Tight, center out". Despite the car not handling exactly to his liking, Schrader continued knocking off the competitors, 36th on lap 26, 35th by lap 29. With a "competition caution" looming on lap 50 he settled into 34th position and focused on staying on the lead lap. When the cars stretched out in single file all the way around the 0.533 mile speedway, the leaders were almost instantaneously caught up to the rear of the field; staying on the lead lap for 50 laps was no small feat.

On lap 50, as the caution waved, the leader was within two cars of lapping Schrader. Hyder called for 2 half-rubbers to be inserted into the car's right rear spring to improve the handling of the Dodge. Spotter Ross Shattuck suggested, "Where we are on track, I don't think we have time to change four tires AND insert 2 rubbers." Hyder heeded his advice and dictated, "Okay, 2 rights and 2 rubbers in the right rear this stop, then we'll come in for lefts." Pitting with all the cars on the lead lap on lap 54, the crew performed flawlessly. Then on lap 55, Schrader came right back in for left side tires and a splash more fuel to top off the tank. On lap 56, the race restarted.

The second caution came out on lap 59 and Schrader was involved. He was inside of Robby Gordon's No. 7 Dodge on the backstretch and Robby raced him hard in the corner, possibly coming down a little too low. After slight contact, Gordon found himself spinning around and bending his splitter slightly as the car came off the banking. During the ensuing caution, with time to breathe, Hyder praised BAM's spotter, "Ross, that was a class act as far as staying on the lead lap. Good job!"

The 2nd restart came on lap 66 with Schrader in 34th. He had moved up to 31st by lap 90. When the third caution came out on lap 94, Ross apologized, "I don't mean to holler at you, I just get excited!" Schrader echoed Hyder's earlier praise saying, "You're doing good, Bud."

Schrader's 2nd pit stop came on Lap 96 for 4 tires and fuel, restarting 31st on lap 100. On lap 120 when the during the 4th caution flag, Hyder opted for track position over tires and fuel. For the lap 125 restart, Schrader found himself in 14th position. Driving a bit conservatively after the restart (when the majority of accidents happen) he lost two spots to find himself 16th on lap 141. Then the veteran Schrader settled in and started passing every car he caught. He moved into 15th on lap 144, 14th on lap 152, 13th on lap 162, 12th on lap 169. Hyder spurred him on, letting him know he was faster than the leader. The leader was turning laps at 16.60's and the Dodge was turning laps in the 16.50's. By lap 179, Schrader was in 11th position and moving toward the front.

It all came to an end on lap 189 when Jamie McMurray and Dario Franchitti lost control of their cars directly in front of Schrader. Schrader dove low into turn 1, but could not avoid the collision. The No. 49 was too damaged to continue so the BAM Racing crew converged on the car in the cramped garage area. Schrader quickly returned to the track on lap 223, perhaps a little too quickly as he reacted, "Whoa! We got issues guys!" After more hasty improvements Schrader returned to the track only to report, "We don't need to be doing this crap. It's sideways when you just LOOK at the turn!" Although the combined repairs only took a total of around 20 minutes, with lap times averaging 16 seconds, it translated into a 70+ lap deficit.

As Schrader regained his confidence in the repaired car, his lap times continued to improve, ultimately getting back in the 16.50's -- faster than the leaders. Hyder encouraged, "I know it sounds crazy, but I tell you, anybody from 2nd place on back can't run with you."

On lap 420, Schrader latched onto the back bumper on Kevin Harvick who was in 2nd place. He stayed there for the next 30 laps until the No. 29 spotter approached Ross and pleaded for Schrader to back off because Harvick was "getting nervous". Running so well was a great tonic for the team and Schrader finished the entire race, despite being 80 laps down. The car was likely the fastest 41st place finisher in NASCAR history! Team owner Beth Ann Morgenthau was happy with what she saw, "I'm really thrilled with the way our car is performing on track. We were in eleventh position when the accident happened, then even after repairs we were still turning laps faster than the leaders. The work of our crew is top notch."

-credit: bam

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeremy Mayfield , Ken Schrader , Kevin Harvick , Robby Gordon , Ryan Newman , Dario Franchitti , Jamie McMurray