Little a surprise top-15 finisher By Shawn A. Akers HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Nov. 11, 1998) Finishing 15th in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings normally isn't anything to write home about. But when you're Chad Little and you reflect upon...
Little a surprise top-15 finisher By Shawn A. Akers
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Nov. 11, 1998) Finishing 15th in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings normally isn't anything to write home about. But when you're Chad Little and you reflect upon what happened last season, 15th place ain't so bad at all.
The driver of the No. 97 John Deere Ford, all but written off as an also-ran after finishing 36th in the points in 1997, made tremendous strides in 1998, as did his team, in its first year under the Roush Racing banner. While only seven top-10 finishes in 32 races may not seem like much, they were as good as gold for the John Deere team, struggling to make a name for itself in the highly-competitive world of NASCAR Winston Cup racing.
"It's been a long season, but we finally reached our goal," Little said. "This team decided in February that it would finish in the top 15 in points, and that's exactly what we did. We've come such a long way in one year's time, it's hard to believe that we were a 36th-place team at this time last year.
"I'm proud of every guy on this team, and I can't wait to see how much further we can go next season. Jack Roush believed in us and John Deere stood behind us when things were tough. It feels good to be able to give them this season in return for that support."
John Deere has sponsored Little since 1996, his final full season in the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division. They stayed with him when he decided to make the move baack up to the NASCAR Winston Cup level last season with team owner Mark Rypien, and he made 27 starts in the series.
The young team failed to qualify for five of the 32 NASCAR Winston Cup events in 1997, and Little managed only one top-10 finish, and eight-place run at Bristol in the spring. When he signed a multi-year contract with Roush prior to this season and then Roush added a fifth team to his stable, Little was considered to the weak link among the five. It wasn't hard to make that deduction considering the other four drivers consisted of Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, Ted Musgrave and Johnny Benson. Benson's team, however, had its share of problems this season and finished 20th in the point standings.
Musgrave didn't even finish out the year at Roush Racing, and was replaced in August by rookie Kevin Lepage. Both Martin and Burton had their expected solid seasons, finishing in the top-10 in the points.
By the time Musgrave was let go, Little was enjoying not a great season, but a solid one. He had finished seventh in the season-opening Daytona 500, but the highlight came at Texas Motor Speedway in April in the Texas 500 when he led four times for 35 laps, including laps 279 through 304 of the 334-lap event. He couldn't hold off his teammate, Martin, and Little finished runner-up to earn his best-ever NASCAR Winston Cup finish.
He would add a sixth-place finish at California and a pair of back-to-back eighth-place finishes later in the year at Charlotte and Talladega.
Little and his No. 97 John Deere Ford team will take a full head of steam into the 1998 campaign, coming off an 11th-place finish in the season-ending NAPA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday. "Next season is right around the corner and we're already working on our cars," Little said. "Our guys don't stop just because the season has ended. With the momentum we've built up, we'll all be recharged when the Daytona 500 rolls around in February and we'll be ready to surpass all the success we've had this year. I can't wait and I know the guys can't, either. We've got a lot to look forward to."
Source: NASCAR Online