BRISTOL, Tenn. (March 26, 2000) - The NASCAR Winston Cup circuit rumbled into Thunder Valley this weekend, and Chad Little and the John Deere Motorsports team planned on making some noise of their own. The John Deere team visited the newly...
BRISTOL, Tenn. (March 26, 2000) - The NASCAR Winston Cup circuit rumbled into Thunder Valley this weekend, and Chad Little and the John Deere Motorsports team planned on making some noise of their own. The John Deere team visited the newly expanded speedway two weeks ago, taking advantage of some precious available time to test the No. 97 Taurus.
It seemed to help as the team unloaded the car and ran in the top 21 during both of Friday's morning practice sessions. Qualifying became difficult as the track conditions changed, and teams up and down pit road agreed that the cars began tightening up around the .533-mile, high-banked oval. Little qualified the John Deere Ford in the 31st position for Sunday's 500-lap race, forced to pit on the backstretch with 21 other competitors. The backstretch pit stall kept the crew on their toes as 11 caution flags were thrown over the course of the afternoon, forcing all stops to come under yellow-flag conditions.
The race got off to a rough start as an ill-handling car gave Little all he could handle as the John Deere Taurus pushed up the concrete banking. Early changes made to the car helped only slightly as Little spent the first half of the race battling the car as much as the 43-car field. Midway through the race, Little found himself in the 30th position three laps down to the leaders, but with each pit stop a chassis adjustment brought the green-and-yellow machine back in line with the competition.
When the fifth caution flag appeared on lap 303, Little entered the pits for fuel, four tires and a track bar adjustment. Little returned to the track in 29th position, but he began making up ground as soon as the green flag waved on lap 313. Although Little would compete with the lead pack for the final 200 laps, the remaining green-flag runs were never long enough to allow him to make up one of his three laps. However, Little pushed the car and with solid service in the pits, the John Deere Ford would avoid losing another lap to the leaders.
Over the course of the last 100 laps, a four-way battle emerged as all four cars that were three laps down began mixing it up on the track. For Little and the John Deere crew, this subplot garnered their attention as each position on the track would preserve their spot in point standings among the top 15. Attrition and perseverance would allow Little to cross the finish line in 23rd place, with the car in one piece and the team in good spirits.
Little lost four positions in the Winston Cup point standings, and now resides in 15th, 40 points outside of the top 10. Little and the John Deere Motorsports team return to the track that gave them their best Winston Cup finish as Texas Motor Speedway hosts next Sunday's DirecTV 500. Little and the crew will look to improve upon their second-place finish in 1998, and keep their streak of six-straight, top-25 finishes alive.
"For as much as we worked on this car this weekend, I'm not quite sure why we had a problem with the handling. Something was hiding in this car. I can't put my finger on it, but it didn't roll through the corners as good as we hoped. I wish I could have done more out there this afternoon, but the handling condition had our hands tied. We'll figure it out. I love racing at this place and there is no reason why we can't run up in the top 10 the next time we come back here.
"Bristol is one of the toughest tracks we race on the entire year, and every time you run 500 laps it feels like an endurance race. You know that it's going to be tough, so you spend most of the weekend preparing for it mentally. We have Texas coming up next weekend, and that's a different track all together. We feel like we have a good car heading into the event. It will be a matter of getting it dialed in to the track conditions."