TALLADEGA, Ala. (October 15, 2000) - The fourth and final superspeedway race of the 2000 season brought with it a new rules package aimed at making the high-speed race more competitive, and not to disappoint, Sunday's 500-mile event at Talladega...
TALLADEGA, Ala. (October 15, 2000) - The fourth and final superspeedway race of the 2000 season brought with it a new rules package aimed at making the high-speed race more competitive, and not to disappoint, Sunday's 500-mile event at Talladega Superspeedway was like a game of human chess. Each move on the track was paramount, as on-track strategy played an integral part in the outcome of the race. It wasn't just about when you made your move, but with whom you made it with.
The 43-car field remained in one pack most of the afternoon, and while there were no major on-track incidents, there was plenty of action. Three-wide racing changed the leader board considerably over the course of the 188-lap race, but the final lap of the race decided the eventual winner and with 49 lead changes over 500 miles, this race seemed like anyone's for the taking.
Chad Little was behind the wheel of the No. 97 John Deere Ford for one final race, and he was determined to make the most of the weekend. Although he qualified 39th, Little drove a familiar car and he was confident it was one he could drive to the front. Little piloted the same Taurus he raced to a top-20 finish in July at Daytona, and it was the same one he took to the NASCAR test at Daytona two months prior when aerodynamic rule changes were being examined.
Little and his Roush Racing teammates Jeff Burton and Matt Kenseth held back at the start of the 188-lap race, as they waited for the field to fall in line. As was the case for most of the day, the first 50 laps of the race consisted of three-wide racing, but to the surprise of many they passed without incidence. The first pit stop came under green-flag racing conditions and Little dropped onto pit lane with Burton and Kenseth on lap 49. Crew chief Jeff Hammond made the call to take two tires and the John Deere crew sent Little back on the track in the top 10. Shortly thereafter, Little experienced escalating temperatures onboard the green-and-yellow machine, so he decided to pull out of the draft to allow the motor a chance to cool down. After running at the tail end of the draft for much of the second run, Little decided to test the Taurus in race traffic and climbed as high as 16th before the midpoint of the race.
Little entered the pits for the second stop of the race on lap 99, but a costly pit stop sent him back on the track in 34th and outside of the lead draft. Fortunately for the John Deere team, the first caution flag of the race appeared on lap 104 and Little was able to close the gap to the leaders before the race restarted on lap 108.
The race only went back to green-flag racing conditions for seven laps before the second of three caution flags waved on lap 115. Little used the break in the action to enter the pits for four tires and resumed racing in 31st place. The next 48 laps saw a 31-car pack dice it up around the 2.66-mile oval, and Little moved the John Deere Ford as high as 12th before the final round of pit stops were set to begin.
Just as Little was about to duck on pit road, the final caution flag waved and Little circled the track one more time before making his final stop. Instead of the gas-and-go the team had planned under green, Hammond called Little into the pits for two right-side tires and fuel. The John Deere crew sent Little back on the track in 18th place, and the makings of a 15-lap shootout were set to unfold. After the restart on lap 173, Little tried racing in all three grooves, and as the laps began to wind down he inched his way into the top 15. Little fought his way to the outside groove during the last few laps and completed the race giving it everything he had.
Little finished the afternoon in 18th position, and picked up 109 points for his effort. The John Deere team currently occupies the 21st position in the Winston Cup owner point standings, 35 points out of the top 20 heading into the final four races. The John Deere Motorsports team travels to North Carolina Speedway this weekend for the Pop Secret 400 with Kurt Busch once again behind the wheel of the No. 97 Ford.
"This was a solid finish for the John Deere team today. We managed to stay out of trouble, keep pace with the leaders, and had a shot at the end. Superspeedways are unique in the fact that any time you can hang with the lead pack over the course of the afternoon, you always have a shot a winning. You just need to pick your drafting partner and hope you can work your way up front.
"We started the race hanging in the back, running on cruise control because with the new rule changes we weren't sure how long it would take for everyone to get comfortable. We had nothing to lose, and if there was an accident we would have had a better chance of avoiding it. At times, this race is as much about exercising patience as it is about racing. It may be a 188-lap race, but the final 10 laps usually decide the winner. That was our strategy today - put ourselves in the mix at the end."