FONTANA, Calif. (April 30, 2000) - Chad Little traveled to Southern California this week hoping to celebrate his 37th birthday in style - taking his first trip to Victory Lane. While the outcome of the race wasn't Hollywood scripted, Little did...
FONTANA, Calif. (April 30, 2000) - Chad Little traveled to Southern California this week hoping to celebrate his 37th birthday in style - taking his first trip to Victory Lane. While the outcome of the race wasn't Hollywood scripted, Little did pick up his fourth top-15 finish of the season, and advanced one position in the Winston Cup point standings.
Little pulled double-duty this weekend for the first time since September 1998, and he drove his way to a 12th-place finish in Saturday's Auto Club 300 Busch Series race. That extra seat time helped Little get a better feel for the track, as the John Deere Motorsports team made significant progress during Saturday's Winston Cup Happy Hour practice session heading into Sunday's main event.
The weekend didn't get off to a fast start, however, as Little and the John Deere team were forced to take a provisional to make the field for Sunday's race. The fast, wide-open track had everyone believing that 500 miles would provide them enough time to make up the necessary ground to catch the leaders. Little started the race in the 38th spot, and when the green flag dropped shortly after 11:00 a.m. PDT, the chase around the 2-mile speedway was underway. The NAPA Auto Parts 500 saw only six caution flags, and while the No. 97 ran the entire 250-lap race unscathed, it was battle tested.
Little battle a loose-handling car the first 40 laps of the race, and managed to pick up three positions before the first caution flag appeared on lap 41. Using a patented Jeff Hammond tactic, Little stayed out on the track while the leaders pitted. This act allowed Little to lead the race and pick up five bonus points in the Winston Cup standings, advancing his efforts on the afternoon. Little did take advantage of the caution, though, entering the pits on lap 44, one lap before the race resumed green-flag conditions, to get a chassis adjustment the team hoped would tighten up the John Deere Taurus. The change was a step in the right direction. The car's handling improved during each of the next two caution periods as Little brought the car into the pits to further remedy the loose-handling condition. When the third caution period ended on lap 104 Little was shown in 27th, and made his way into the top 20 within the next 20 laps. Little continued to make a charge to the front as the next two pit stops came under green.
Quick pit stops were executed by the John Deere crew when they needed them most as the last 50 laps of the race saw two stops, and each time the John Deere team made its way up the leader board. Little was caught up in traffic after the last of his six pit stops on lap 219, and fell five positions on the track as a result. The race was far from over, and Little battled his through traffic over the final 30 laps to break back into the top 15. When the checkered flag waved, Little brought the John Deere Ford home in 15th place.
Ten races into the 2000 Winston Cup season, Little sits in the 15th position in the point standings, and heads into next weekend's Pontiac Excitement 400 at Richmond International Raceway 153 points out of the top 10.
"We didn't have a handle on this track 100%, but we'll take a top 15 today. We had our struggles early in the weekend, but when the green flag dropped on Sunday we were able to race our way up front. That's been something we've been able to do all season, and that's why we're still in the top 15 in points.
"This has to be one of my favorite cars, it got us our first top-10 finish this year at Atlanta, and I would have to put it in the same category this afternoon. Running in the Busch race probably helped us out there today, but it was a total John Deere team effort to move up 23 spots during the race. We need to continue to focus our efforts qualifying, and with some better starting spots, I believe our day is just around the corner."