DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (February 20, 2000) â€“ The anticipation that had built up over the past 10 days culminated on Sunday as the first Winston Cup points race of the 2000 season commenced. The 42nd annual Daytona 500 got off to a rousing start...
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (February 20, 2000) – The anticipation that had built up over the past 10 days culminated on Sunday as the first Winston Cup points race of the 2000 season commenced. The 42nd annual Daytona 500 got off to a rousing start for the John Deere Motorsports team as Chad Little piloted the No. 97 Ford Taurus from the 29th starting position. Little, who earlier in the week placed 15th in the first Twin 125 shootout, established himself as a contender early in the 200-lap race.
It only took five laps after the drop of the green flag for the 43-car field to line up single file around the 2.5-mile track, and Little fell into line in 36th position. Little made his move on the field soon after, as the first of six caution flags waved on lap 33. Little used the slowdown to enter the pits for four tires and a trackbar adjustment, and exited the pits advancing four positions into 22nd place. When the race returned to green flag racing conditions, Little began his charge through the field, methodically passing his competitors one at a time. When the second round of pit stops occurred, Little ran the John Deere Taurus a few extra laps before pitting, and in the process led his first lap of the season, picking up the all important five bonus points that accompany this feat.
All day long the No. 97 Ford ran well on the low side of the banked oval, and Little drafted with the No. 94 car of Bill Elliott to advance a few more positions before the third caution flag of the day was displayed on lap 156. Unfortunately for Little, he found himself behind a pack of cars running three wide and when they checked up, Little found himself without a lane to maneuver and bumped the rear of the No. 26 car. The damage to the nose of the No. 97 machine required multiple pit stops during the extended caution period, and Little dropped from 15th to 27th. Still on the lead lap, however, Little was in the hunt for a strong finish. The last fifty laps of the race saw a lot of dicing for positions with cars running side by side, and four of the six caution flag periods were within this fifty lap span. Little, fighting his way back through the field, was caught up in an incident on lap 193 when the No. 90 car clipped the right side of the No. 97 Taurus and sent Little down to the apron of the race track. The damage with only seven laps remaining was significant, but only two laps of green flag racing would occur before the final caution flag of the day. The race ended as the field crossed the finish line under yellow, and Little managed to gain a few positions putting him 23rd on the final standings.
Little's five-lap bonus allowed him to move into 22nd in the overall NASCAR Winston Cup point standings with the first race of the season officially completed. The team heads to North Carolina Speedway next weekend for the Dura-Lube/Kmart 400.
"It's a shame we didn't have some better luck today because the John Deere Ford was definitely a top-10 car. When the caution came out on lap 156, the cars in front of me were racing three wide and when they checked up I didn't have anywhere to go. We were still able to finish the day on the lead lap, and that's not a bad day's work. We were competitive in the early going, and during the second green flag run we were one of the fastest cars on the track. That proves we still have a good superspeedway program, and I think we have a good handle on the 2000 Taurus body.
"I'm not too sure what happened at the end. The No. 90 car got into the right side of me going into Turn 2, and we were lucky that another caution came out so quickly. There was some significant fender damage and at a track like Daytona where aerodynamics is so important we were definitely put at a disadvantage. The John Deere crew did a good job on the four-tire pit stops, and hopefully that consistency continues throughout the year. This was a good start to the season, now we head to Rockingham to follow up this performance with another strong outing."