MARTINSVILLE, Va. (October 1, 2000) - Thrown right into the fire, competing in arguably two of the toughest consecutive races on the circuit, Kurt Busch made his second Winston Cup start this weekend at Martinsville Speedway. The relatively flat...
MARTINSVILLE, Va. (October 1, 2000) - Thrown right into the fire, competing in arguably two of the toughest consecutive races on the circuit, Kurt Busch made his second Winston Cup start this weekend at Martinsville Speedway. The relatively flat 0.526-mile oval, known to be notoriously tough on rookies, lived up to its daunting reputation again this year. Of the seven rookies that started in the 43-car field, none could brag that they finished the afternoon on the lead lap or finished in the top 20, but most would have to admit they were involved in at least one on-track incident. So as this marked the last short-track race of the 2000 season, it was only the first in Busch's Winston Cup career, and one he knows he can improve upon.
Busch qualified the John Deere Ford in the 40th starting position for Sunday's 500-lap race, sacrificing part of Friday's practice to establish a feel for the race track. Not having an opportunity to test at Martinsville, crew chief Jeff Hammond wanted to make sure that Busch had the most track time possible to find the best line and technique to complete 500 laps on Sunday.
The race was filled with cautions as the first of 13 caution flags came out on lap 17 as the No. 9 car hit the wall in Turn 4. Busch used the slowdown to enter the pits for an early chassis adjustment to free up the tight-handling car. Busch struggled with the car early in the race, fighting a tight-handling condition that made it difficult to get the No. 97 Ford to turn on the flat, narrow corners. Pitting twice for two tires during the first caution, however, turned out to be a costly strategy as the team went down a lap early as Busch was penalized for a stop-and-go penalty as he exited the pits.
Busch returned to the track after serving his penalty as the race went back to green-flag conditions and found himself battling to stay ahead of the race leaders, trying not giving up another lap. His perseverance paid off, however, as Busch was able to outrun for the leaders for 20 laps as the second caution flag came out on lap 53. This time the call was for a four-tire stop, but a miscommunication between team and driver caused Busch to leave the pits before all four tires were changed and forced yellow-and-green machine to limp around the track with only three wheels until the crew could fix the damage. The damage was mainly cosmetic and Busch re-entered the race track in 40th position, two laps down to the leaders. With a better-handling car Busch was able to dice his way through the field, gaining experience not only on the track but also in competition.
Finding a rhythm, Busch made his may mid-pack by lap 150, but an error in judgement caused him to make contact with the No. 50 car on lap 160 and brought out the fifth caution of the afternoon. Busch remained stalled on the bottom of Turn 2 for three laps until he could re-fire the engine. As the race went back to green on lap 166, Busch found himself riding in the 39th position, five laps down to the leaders.
Just as Busch seemed to regain his rhythm, a caution on lap 188 took it all away. A spin on the frontstretch that seemed to clear all of a sudden caused a four-car pile-up with Busch at the tail end. The No. 97 Ford made contact with the back of the No.17 car, rupturing the radiator and forcing the car behind the wall. The crew worked feverishly to cut off the crumbled nose and replace the radiator. Ninety-six laps later the damage was repaired and Busch returned to the track on lap 286 in 41st position with a slightly different look. Racing for experience, Busch kept the nose of the car out of trouble and finished the race without further incidence.
Busch finished the race in 37th position, and remains in the 21st place in the Winston Cup owner point standings. Busch trails 20th place Bill Elliott by 135 points going into next weekend's UAW-GM Quality 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Busch's Quotes
"We knew that if we stayed out of trouble and didn't make any mistakes, we had the opportunity to come out of here with a top-25 finish. That just didn't happen today. It wasn't the perfect day for us today. I made a few mistakes out there today, we had a miscommunication in pits, but that's all part of the learning process. When you're running 20-second laps, it doesn't give you a lot of time to get comfortable behind the wheel. One slip here costs you a lot of time. We learned that today. We suffered some damage because of it, but we managed to get all the damage repaired and finished 396 laps in competition, which is 396 laps more than I have ever raced here in a Cup car before.
"Martinsville is just a tough track the first time around. We learned that in the Truck Series and we learned that again today. The Cup car and the Craftsman truck aren't all that similar at a track like this. The changes we made to the truck in the spring race to free it up didn't have the same outcome as those changes did on the car.
"When we lost the front end of the car I thought I checked up enough and that the line was going to go, but that wasn't the case. It cost us some time behind the wall getting the car fixed, and when we did make it back, it looked like we were in the Modified Division. None of the steering components were damaged, though, so we were still able to learn something, even if it wasn't something that could be translated into a notebook. I learned a few things out there about the competition, and that will definitely help us down the road. Now we leave the short tracks behind us and focus our attention to Charlotte. We have a busy week next week testing at Atlanta on Monday and Tuesday, and then we qualify at Lowe's Motor Speedway on Wednesday."