MARTINSVILLE, Va. (April 9, 2000) - Sunday's Goody's Body Pain 500 lived up to its name as an event-record, 17 caution flags sent six of the 43 competitors in the field home early. The flat track of Martinsville Speedway proved to be a...
MARTINSVILLE, Va. (April 9, 2000) - Sunday's Goody's Body Pain 500 lived up to its name as an event-record, 17 caution flags sent six of the 43 competitors in the field home early. The flat track of Martinsville Speedway proved to be a formidable opponent as Chad Little and the John Deere Motorsports team struggled to dial the No. 97 Ford into the .526-mile oval.
Friday's qualifying run was marred by an improperly attached sway bar, and with the forecast of rain, the team decided to work on the race setup rather than re-qualify Saturday morning. Little and the John Deere team settled for the 38th-starting position for the 500-lap race, and spent Saturday morning trying to get the green-and-yellow Ford set up for long runs.
The weather forecast proved correct as a deluge of rain blanketed the track Saturday afternoon, canceling Happy Hour practice session, and forcing the team to rely on the notes they had already collected. The storm blew through Virginia overnight, but the weather on Sunday was quite a bit cooler with gusts of wind. The 43-car field took the green flag shortly after 1 p.m. EDT, and the 263 miles that followed left a trail of debris around the 53-year-old track.
Little used the first 15 laps to feel out the car, when the second caution flag of the afternoon waved. Little entered the pits for a chassis adjustment to loosen up the John Deere Ford, in hopes that the change would allow the car to turn better in the corners. Subsequent pit stops were made to improve the tight-handling condition, but Little lost a lap to the race leader on lap 139, three laps prior to the next caution period. Little was unable to regain his lap, however, he moved the John Deere Ford into 31st position, and was the fastest of the cars that were in the same situation.
Pit stops played a vital role in Sunday's race, as a new NASCAR rule prohibited tires to be left outside the outer half of the pit stall during routine tire changes. Several teams were punished over the course of the afternoon for failing to adhere to the new rule, but the John Deere crew adjusted flawlessly.
The longest run of the day lasted 110 laps, and Little found out why Martinsville Speedway is notorious for being tough on equipment. Over the course of those 100 laps, the brakes overheated and lost some of their grip requiring a change in driving technique. The caution on lap 308 was timely, as the slowdown allowed the brakes a chance to cool, and the driver a moment to regain his composure. Little battled the rest of the way with Nos. 13 and 8 cars, as they were the only two competitors during the final 200 laps that were on the same lap as the No. 97 machine.
In the end, Little crossed the finish line in 27th place, four laps down to race-winner Mark Martin. Little's 27th-place finish sustained his 15th-place position in Winston Cup point standings, and only trails 14th place, Ken Schrader, by four points heading into next weekend's DieHard 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
"We survived. That wasn't the goal heading into this weekend, but after some of the struggles we faced, I think that's a positive outcome. We haven't figured this place out yet, and it's not the size of the track, but the relative flatness in the corners that gets us. We couldn't get the car to roll through the corners like we needed it to. "I can't say that I'm sorry to be going to Talladega next weekend; that track just suits my driving style better. Once you go down a lap at a short track like Martinsville, the problems just seem to compound. We battled all afternoon, and we finished the race with all four fenders basically intact. We don't come back here until October, and I'll have to discuss with Jeff (Hammond) whether this will be one of the tracks that we will test later on in the year. The John Deere team tested at Talladega last week, and once we review our notes from here on Monday, our focus will change and we'll put this one behind us."