CONCORD, N.C. (July 26, 2000) - Taking advantage of its second off weekend in three weeks, the John Deere Motorsports team spent the past two days testing at the road course of Watkins Glen (N.Y.) following their 20th-place performance at Pocono...
CONCORD, N.C. (July 26, 2000) - Taking advantage of its second off weekend in three weeks, the John Deere Motorsports team spent the past two days testing at the road course of Watkins Glen (N.Y.) following their 20th-place performance at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway on Sunday. This was also the team's second test in two weeks, as they spent July 17-18 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway preparing for the seventh annual Brickyard 400.
Next weekend's Brickyard 400 kicks off a segment of 12 consecutive races, the longest stretch of consecutive races on the Winston Cup schedule, which concludes after the October 22 race at North Carolina Speedway. While three of the 12 races fall on Saturday, this week may be the last chance for teams to perform a full two-day test session until late in the season. That means that the next two races on the schedule - Indianapolis and Watkins Glen - are important to achieve some early, positive momentum.
"The reason why we do the test at Indy is that it's one of the biggest races on the schedule," crew chief Jeff Hammond said. "Obviously, doing well at Indy is paramount as far as the second half of the season is concerned. And, when you go to Watkins Glen, since we don't get to run many road-course races, you get a chance to work and fine tune your timing and your skills. So that's always beneficial. In our case we redid a road-course car from last year, and we'd really like to see if we made it better to give ourselves an opportunity to improve on our finish from a year ago."
The team concluded its test at The Glen on Tuesday feeling confident that they closed the gap to the leaders. Little finished 14th at the 1999 race at Watkins Glen after taking the 38th-starting spot with a time that was 2.7 seconds off the pole-sitter, but his quickest time at yesterday's practice session was 72.76 seconds, and would have been fast enough for the outside pole.
"Testing is always a plus," said driver Chad Little. "The atmosphere is usually more laid back than your average three-day weekend, and it allows you to try some things you might not have an opportunity to try before qualifying on Friday. We've spent a lot of time working on qualifying runs both at Indy and Watkins Glen so that we can unload off the truck faster and get locked into the top 25 after the first day. That allows you to utilize Saturday morning practice to focus on race setup, and it gives the guys a little more time to change over from qualifying trim into race trim."
The collection of data is an important element of any test. The two test sessions have occurred at tracks known for driving technique rather than flat out speed, allowing the team to collect data from various components of the car. The ability of a driver to hit his marks and shift at the proper time has a big impact on the outcome of the race. The John Deere crew took the time during the tests to not only work on setup, but to also evaluate some of the mechanical components on the car that they otherwise wouldn't have the time to changeover during the course of a weekend.
"Obviously whenever you're testing, anything you take as far as test data can be translated into any race track as long as you have enough data to base it off of," Hammond said. "So the thing we're looking at right now is running two tests so close together that we get really current information on cars. Even though the tracks are different, we may be able to ascertain through aerodynamics, braking or some motor things that may translate into a Martinsville car or Homestead or Phoenix. That's what we're looking to do. As we enter the second half of the season we have a lot of flatter tracks, tracks we only visit once a year, and we're hoping these tests sessions can help us get a better handle on the car."
The past two test sessions have also occurred during the week, giving the crew some to rest during the weekend ensuring that fatigue doesn't become a factor early into the stretch run.
"We'll try to schedule things and work it in such a way far enough out that it will be beneficial to us," Hammond said. "Like with our Watkins Glen car, if everything goes well with testing, the car will be better set up and better prepared before we go back to The Glen, just like when we left Indy. The stuff we learned at Indy, we were able to leave under the car and roll right into the final package a lot easier. So, it gives us a certain amount of confidence when we go back to these next two races that we already have a proven product that we better understand so we'll be better served if we have a weather problem. We should be able to do a better job in case of no practice or limited practice. The other thing would be the situation of possibly having more time to get better, trying some things we hadn't had time to do before because our baseline is better."
The John Deere team and driver Chad Little currently occupy 21st place in the Winston Cup point standings, and are within striking distance of 15th place, trailing Jeremy Mayfield by 153 points with 15 races remaining.