CONCORD, N.C. (May 28, 2000) - The Coca-Cola 600 has a long, storied history that makes it a special event in the minds of the drivers, but Chad Little had some extra motivation this weekend as the more than 450,000 members of the FFA drove with...
CONCORD, N.C. (May 28, 2000) - The Coca-Cola 600 has a long, storied history that makes it a special event in the minds of the drivers, but Chad Little had some extra motivation this weekend as the more than 450,000 members of the FFA drove with him for 600 miles.
The weeklong events began on Wednesday as qualifying took center stage around the 1.5-mile Lowe's Motor Speedway. Little and the crew struggled to get the car to grip the track and found themselves in the 38th-starting position for Sunday's marathon race. Ask the 43 drivers what it takes to win the 600-mile race and most will answer, patience and consistency. That's what the John Deere team focused their efforts on for the remainder of the weekend as they prepared the No. 97 Ford for long runs and adjusting to the changing weather conditions.
With most of the practice sessions being held in the heat of the mid-afternoon sun, finding the right setup for a race that starts under the sun and ends under the lights poses quite a challenge for the drivers and crew chiefs. The track temperatures will change drastically from the start of the race until the finish, and incorporating changes that will allow the car to be adjustable is important. Little seemed to have the John Deere/FFA car to his liking during Saturday's Happy Hour practice session as the team opted to run only 14 laps and posted the 11th quickest lap time.
After the pre-race festivities concluded on Sunday, the focus was again centered on the 43-car field and the challenge they faced. Even before the drop of the green flag, a band of distant rain showers looked to play a part in the race before the night was through. The green flag dropped shortly after 6:00 p.m. EDT and the 12th Winston Cup race of the 2000 season was underway.
Little fought a loose-handling car for the start of the race, and went down a lap to leaders on lap 64 as the first round of pit stops commenced. Little had made his way into the top 25 before the first pit stop, but with the race running under green-flag conditions, the ill-handling car cost the team valuable time on the track. The first of seven caution flags waved on lap 80, and as the 43-car field bunched together Little was shown in the 27th position, one lap down to the leaders.
Little would pit to have the crew tighten up the car, but he would continue to fight a loose-handling condition until the fourth pit stop on lap 132, as the third caution flag flew. The caution period allowed the crew some extra time in the pits and they removed a spring rubber, and immediately the John Deere/FFA Ford took a step in the right direction. Another spring-rubber change was made the following stop, and Little radioed to the crew that the car's handling continued to improve. This was good news, as the race was far from over, but the radar told a different story as the rain was quickly approaching.
The threat of rain began to loom overhead as the midpoint of the 400-lap approached. Little was riding in 33rd place on lap 165, but the fear that rain could shorten the race seemed to light a fire under Little as he climbed to 22nd place on lap 242 as the first drops of precipitation fell. The race would be red flagged five laps later and the cars pulled on to pit road where they would be covered and motionless. A brief rain delay followed, but the drivers would fire the engines up again at 9:40 p.m., and continue to race where they had left off. Little restarted the race in the 23rd position, two laps down to the leaders, and with 140 laps left he knew that he would be battling the other cars two laps down for every last point.
Little could feasible make his way to 19th before the conclusion of the event, as the cars in positions 19th through 24th were in the same racing situation. Little maneuvered the John Deere/FFA Ford as high as 20th when the checkered flag flew on lap 400. Little's top-20 performance was his seventh of the season as he advanced 18 positions from the start of the race. Little remains in the top 20 in the Winston Cup point standings, slipping one position to 19th, and heads to Dover Downs International Speedway 87 points out of the top 15.
"Once again, we saved our best racing for last. We weren't sure how the impending weather was going to affect the track conditions, and we set the car up too loose. We tried a few minor adjustments the first couple of pit stops, but we finally had to come in and pull one of our spring rubbers. That really helped to get the car to stick to the track, and it allowed us to race with some of the leaders.
"We finished the night in the top 20 and during a 600-mile race, that's no small feat. Granted, we wanted to get the John Deere/FFA Ford in the top 10, but with some of our early problems that made it difficult. We could have used an early caution flag, but you need to approach each race as though it will run caution-free. This will be an important race for us in the points because if we couldn't get the car moving in the right direction we could have easily finished in the 30s. That says a lot about this team, and the fight not to give up."