Little rallies to strong finish FONTANA, Calif. (May 4, 1998) Chad Little's performance in Sunday's NASCAR Winston Cup Series California 500 Presented by NAPA changed as quickly as the volatile Southern California weather. With...
Little rallies to strong finish FONTANA, Calif. (May 4, 1998) Chad Little's performance in Sunday's NASCAR Winston Cup Series California 500 Presented by NAPA changed as quickly as the volatile Southern California weather. With El Nino-driven rain clouds hanging ominously over the two-mile speedway, Little's John Deere team turned a 40th-place start into a sixth-place finish.
"That was a really good ending to what started out as a tough day," Little said. "The whole team just stuck in there when we were a lap down and refused to give up. It just goes to show that your day is never over until the checkered flag falls."
Little's fourth top-10 finish of the season didn't come easily, and not without a stroke of good luck. His No. 97 Taurus was strong from the start of the 250-lap event, and he passed 14 cars within the first 23 laps. His charge temporarily stalled there when his car developed a tight handling condition that would nag him all day.
With his Roush Racing teammate Mark Martin dominating the race at the point, Little's priority was to improve on the car during his first pit stop. The crew changed four tires and made air pressure adjustments to loosen the car up on lap 49. The quick stop got Little back onto the track at the tail end of the lead lap, but he went a lap down to the leaders one lap later. The change was helpful, though, and Little kept his car just behind the leaders throughout the middle part of the race. He made two more pit stops while running a lap down, and each time the car got faster.
As the leaders began to make their fourth pit stops, Little's crew kept him on the track hoping for a caution flag that would get them back on the lead lap. Getting excellent gas mileage out of his Jack Roush-prepared Ford engine, Little was able to stretch his stop until lap 143.
Just as he was pulling away from his pit stall after taking on two tires and fuel, the yellow flag flew. Little raced down pit road and beat leader Martin to the start/finish line by just a few car lengths. The break was exactly what the team was praying for, and after several lead-lap cars pitted again, the John Deere Ford was shown in 13th place.
"We caught a really good break when that caution came out and put us back on the lead lap," Little said. "But if we hadn't been running as good as we were at the time, we wouldn't have been in a position to capitalize on an opportunity like that. We owe a lot of that to Jack (Roush) and to the guys who build our engines because we were getting really good gas mileage.
"I can't stress how much of a team effort this was today. The motor was great, Jeff (Hammond) and Skip (Eyler) called a great strategy and my spotter Phil Cook kept me out of trouble on a couple of pretty close calls. That really sums up our season so far this year."
The opportunity breathed new life into the crew, and Little's handling problems had all but vanished. By lap 193, Little had worked his way to fifth place knowing he had only one more pit stop to make before the end of the race. The last round of pit stops started at lap 200, and Little took the race lead on lap 203 before pitting on 204.
Another quick two-tire stop sent him back onto the track in seventh place with less than 45 laps to go. Little broke into the top-five when he drove past Geoff Bodine on lap 238, but his car's tight condition surfaced again with its wore left-side tires. Before the checkered flag flew on lap 250, Jeff Gordon and Darrell Waltrip, who both had four fresh tires, passed Little's green machine.
Little, who moved up the most positions of any driver in the race, also moved up to 16th place in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series point standings. With no race scheduled for next weekend, the team headed to Sears Point Raceway Monday for three days of testing.
Source: NASCAR Online