DARLINGTON, S.C. (September 3, 2000) - If you have traveled the Winston Cup circuit this year, it's hard to believe that there are areas in the country that have been experiencing drought-like conditions this summer as the fourth race of the 2000...
DARLINGTON, S.C. (September 3, 2000) - If you have traveled the Winston Cup circuit this year, it's hard to believe that there are areas in the country that have been experiencing drought-like conditions this summer as the fourth race of the 2000 season was shortened due to rain. Darlington Raceway's second race of the season joined the ranks of Las Vegas, Michigan and New Hampshire as being red-flagged and cut short due to inclement weather.
It wasn't a matter of if it would rain on Sunday during the Southern 500, but when the rain would hit the 1.366-mile facility. The impending rain added another element for the 43-car field to incorporate into their strategy, as teams designated a weather runner to keep up with every change on the radar.
Chad Little and the John Deere crew worked as best they could with the weather and a new tire compound at the track dubbed "Too Tough to Tame." Little posted the 26th fastest time on Friday and that would hold up on Saturday, putting the No. 97 Ford within sight of the leaders when the race started. Only four laps into the race the first of nine caution flags waved. Unfortunately, Little was caught up in the accident and had the rear fender on his John Deere Taurus punched in. The damage was purely cosmetic as the John Deere crew fixed the sheet metal and sent Little back onto the track in 38th place.
The race would only make it to lap 33 before the first drops of rain fell, but the rain picked up intensity and caused the race to be delayed for over two hours. After the track was deemed acceptable for racing, the drivers strapped back into their cars for an extended yellow-flag period. They would circle the track for 13 laps before the green flag was once again shown. When racing resumed on lap 50, Little was shown in 30th place, but he told the crew during the delay that they had a car capable of making it into the top 20.
Little struggled with a tight-handling condition early in the race that made it difficult to keep the green-and-yellow machine on the inside of the track as he exited the corners of the egg-shaped raceway. Changes were made in the pits that included spring rubber and tire pressure adjustments, and by the fourth pit stop on lap 134, Little felt he had a car capable of making a charge through the field. Little fought hard for 15 laps following the stop to stay on the lead lap, but he eventually yielded his position to the leaders, putting him one lap down.
Talk of rain increased throughout the pits as the radar showed that the scheduled 367-lap event would not be completed. The fifth caution flag waved just 11 laps short of the halfway point, and Little had moved the John Deere Ford back into the top 25. Little exited the pits in 24th and had the opportunity of racing as high as 23rd, battling with another car also one lap down. Drops of rain once again fell on lap 206 slowing the race for the sixth time, but never hard enough to stop the race. The drivers would circle the track for 20 laps before the green flag was dropped.
When racing resumed on lap 226, Little had slipped to 27th, but he made his way back into the top 25 by lap 250. As darkness became a factor and rain loomed over the Turn 4 seating, the field raced under green-flag conditions from lap 254 to 320 before precipitation once again fell. This time the heavy rain came rapidly ending the race on lap 328, 39 laps short of the 367 scheduled. Little finished the afternoon in 21st place, and gained five bonus points for leading lap 80.
Little gained one spot in the Winston Cup point standings, putting him in 19th place, and heads to Richmond 125 points out of the top 15.
"This is a solid finish for the John Deere team. We gained a spot in the points and came close to leaving here with a top-20 finish. Historically, this has never been one of our best tracks, but we came in here with a good bit of confidence, qualified 26th and picked up 105 points for our efforts. We'll take that on a track like this.
"I'm sure we can all use the day off tomorrow after the marathon session here today. We can't sit back too much because we have a short week with the race at Richmond being held on Saturday. We tested there last week, and we feel we have a solid car and some