Martinsville: Ken Schrader race report

GREAT RUN SLIPS AWAY WITH OIL LEAK Bad racing luck once again keeps team from a good finish MARTINSVILLE, Va. (March 30, 2008) -- After qualifying 7th for the Goody's Cool Orange 500 at Martinsville's tight 0.526 mile paper clip-shaped oval,...

Bad racing luck once again keeps team from a good finish

MARTINSVILLE, Va. (March 30, 2008) -- After qualifying 7th for the Goody's Cool Orange 500 at Martinsville's tight 0.526 mile paper clip-shaped oval, the entire BAM Racing team was looking forward to a great run. Two tumultuous weeks had preceded the race with the team switching from Dodge to Toyota and signing Microsoft Small Business as a sponsor. The resultant workload was a challenge for everyone associated with the team so it was a welcome relief to return to the relative normalcy of race week at the track. As the race started, Schrader settled into a comfortable spot in the top ten before carefully working his way up to 6th. Chassis adjustments on the first few pit stops didn't work as expected and on lap 173 the Microsoft Small Business Toyota was lapped. Due to a spin and heavy contact with the nose of the No. 49 Camry, it took 190 laps to get the lap back. As a lead lap car, Schrader started moving his way back up, as high as 14th on lap 393. Ultimately, another hard hit from Kevin Harvick led to the oil cooler being ruptured. With lap times averaging 20 seconds, repairs took 33 laps, however, the team persisted, returning to the track and finishing the race in 37th position.

Immediately after the Food City 500, the BAM Racing team swung into action to convert their fleet of Dodges into Toyota Camry's. With the intensely competitive environment in NASCAR Sprint Cup, the single-car team felt that the support provided by Toyota would best fit their needs going forward. A test at Caraway Speedway in Asheboro, N.C. on Wednesday acknowledged their decision. Driver Ken Schrader said, "That's the fastest car I've ever driven . . . and it TURNS!" One of the problems with the new C.O.T.'s, with their high center of gravity, is that they are very difficult to get to turn properly. Schrader, not someone prone to making promises added, "I guarantee we'll be good!"

On Friday at Martinsville, the car was fast right out of the transporter. The first run of the 90-minute practice resulted in a fast lap of 20.263 which was 5th quickest at the time. By the third run, the team was down to 11th quickest, but a lap of 20.153 bumped them back to 5th quickest. On the team's 4th run in practice, Schrader knocked out a lap at 19.943 seconds that -- at that time - was the fastest lap of the day. Through extremely fast work in-between runs, the crew was able to make a total of 11 separate runs in the 90-minute practice session and ultimately ended up 12th quickest.

For qualifying, Schrader was focused on one goal: comfortably putting the car in the field. He did just that, qualifying 7th, only 0.17 seconds off Jeff Gordon's pole time. Schrader later admitted that he drove a little conservatively so that he wouldn't accidentally hit a curb and destroy his lap. Getting kudos from team owner Beth Ann Morgenthau after his run, Schrader deflected credit towards the crew saying, "I just drove it, they put it together." Ever the racer, Ken left quickly to get to Paducah, KY to run a late model dirt race.

Practice on Saturday was spent trying to find the fine line between turning too well -- "too free in the center"; versus accelerating fast enough out of the turns - "forward bite up off the turns". The crew tried various fixes including changing the front sway bar, lowering the track bar (both sides), changing springs, changing shocks, putting a rubber in the springs, changing camber and changing weight distribution. In the second of the two 1-hour practices the team made 6 runs, putting about 47 total laps on one set of tires without a big drop in lap times. Finally, the team ran out of time for additional changes with crew chief David Hyder advising, "All right, come in, jack it up. I know what we need to do, we just don't have time."

On Sunday, it was overcast, threatening rain, and cold. The pit box was covered with a plastic canopy and clear plastic panels for windows. The first command over the radio was from Hyder, "Take this cover off the front, I'm going to be seasick looking through this thing!"

Schrader pumped up the crew saying, "All right guys, we got a good little hot rod here, see you in 500." At the drop of the green flag, Schrader gave way to the impetuous Kyle Busch and settled into 8th place. Two more cars got past to put him 10th before the first caution on lap 22 when Kyle Busch spun coming off turn 4. Schrader stayed out during the first caution, restarting 10th. He moved to 9th on lap 31 passing Kevin Harvick, into 8th on lap 35 passing Tony Stewart, 7th on lap 37 and 6th on lap 41. The second caution came out on lap 45 and Schrader wanted changes. "I need to be free-er in the center. It's hurting me up off." Hyder called for a half rubber to be knocked in the right rear. The pit stop on lap 46 dropped the car back to 19th, but Schrader was optimistic, "Awesome pit stop guys for putting a rubber in!"

There are so many crucial components that go into a competitive run, and sometimes, the only person who notices a potential problem is the spotter. When the third caution flag flew on lap 59, spotter Ross Shattuck pointed out, "Hyder, we need to look at our pit road speed, we're really slow. Boys are stacking up behind us." After time to determine a higher RPM range for pit road speed, Hyder keyed his mike, "Schrader, let's bump it up to 4,500."

During the ensuing green flag period, Schrader consistently moved forward, passing such drivers as Ryan Newman, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kyle Busch (again). The Microsoft Small Business Camry was posted as high as 11th place. When the fifth caution came out on lap 107, Schrader was comfortably running 14th. Chassis adjustments during the pit stop cost the team 13 spots to restart in 27th.

During this run, Schrader was not happy with the car. Saying it wouldn't turn, then complaining, "It just keeps getting worse." At one point the spotter said "Clear, get your rhythm back" to which Schrader retorted, "I ain't got no rhythm, IT WON'T TURN!" On lap 173, the BAM Racing Toyota was lapped. From that point the race was an exercise in frustration as Schrader, mired in heavy traffic, got bumped, slammed, spun out and harassed lap after lap. He crumpled the nose of his Toyota but kept on running. Hyder coached him saying, "There ain't no opening up there where you hit, how's your water temp?" After gambling by staying out during a series of caution periods, the caution caused by Matt Kenseth spinning out David Gilliland on lap 363 led to Schrader being awarded the "Lucky Dog" - getting a free lap to return to the lead lap. (With Mcrosoft sponsorship, the new life the team was given seemed like a "reboot.") He restarted in 25th on lap 367.

Schrader made his way up to 19th before another caution on lap 388. With 112 laps to go, the team was within its fuel window and was planning a fuel-only stop. Schrader suggested otherwise, "You wanna' do two tires?" Hyder quickly decided, "Yeah! Two rights!" The quick pit stop gained five positions, restarting 14th on lap 393.

With around 100 laps to go, Kevin Harvick bumped Schrader hard in the rear, getting the No. 49 sideways exiting the turn. Schrader's problems were bigger than that though. It was later determined that the initial front end collision had moved the radiator and oil cooler back perilously close to the fan. The last bump by Harvick caused the fan to cut several capillaries on the oil cooler, caused the car to lose oil and smoke heavily. Schrader nearly spun in his own oil, but brought the car into the garage for repairs. The experienced BAM crew took only 33 laps to fix the problem as well as replace a dead battery. Still one of the faster cars on the track once they returned, the team persevered to the end of the race, finishing a disappointing 37th.

Hyder praised the driver after the race, "All right Bud, way to hang in there." Team owner Beth Ann Morgenthau echoed his praise, saying, "Thank you guys for a great job. Kenny, you did a great job too." Schrader, ever the pragmatist and willing to shoulder all blame, jibed back, "Yeah, right up to the point I didn't stop quick enough."

In retrospect, in Bristol in a Dodge, the team was in 11th place before a crash took them out and relegated Schrader to a 42nd place finish. In Martinsville, in a Toyota, the team was running 14th and gaining, when a bump from behind resulted in a 37th place finish. The two weeks netted the team a total of 92 points, when they would have potentially earned 251 points. That 159 point difference would have placed BAM Racing in a tie for 36th in points only 3 points out of 35th. Two more cars passed would have landed the team in 35th in points. The performance is clearly there, now it's only a matter of getting the finishes to correspond with the performance. As team owner Beth Ann Morgenthau succinctly stated, "Looks like really bad luck two times in a row."

-credit: bam

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya