BROOKLYN, Mich. (August 20, 2000) - Looking to rebound from a 32nd-place finish at the rain-shortened Kmart 400 in June, Chad Little and the John Deere crew returned to the 2-mile Michigan Speedway to put their three-race top-20 streak on the line.
BROOKLYN, Mich. (August 20, 2000) - Looking to rebound from a 32nd-place finish at the rain-shortened Kmart 400 in June, Chad Little and the John Deere crew returned to the 2-mile Michigan Speedway to put their three-race top-20 streak on the line. It was a gloomy start to the weekend, however, as both the weather and on-track results were mixed. The first practice session on Friday was delayed due to inclement weather, and later that afternoon Little posted the 32nd fastest time in first-round qualifying. With Michigan Speedway's history as a green-flag racing venue, the John Deere crew opted not to re-qualify on Saturday to instead focus on race setup.
Sunday's 400-mile race began under a clear, however uncharacteristically cool, August afternoon, but Little was determined to get things heated up right from the start. Little advanced quickly from his 36th-place starting position, and after an early caution flag, which allowed the team to pit, Little climbed his way into the top 20 on his second stop of the day as crew chief Jeff Hammond made the call for only two tires.
The race was scattered with caution flags-eight on the day- and the John Deere team took advantage of seven of them to fine-tune the No. 97 Ford. Little solidified his position in the top 20 for the first 50 laps of the 200-lap race, but as the green-flag laps ticked away, the John Deere Ford began to tighten up and drift towards the outside wall. A well-timed caution on lap 64 allowed Little to enter the pits to remove a spring rubber in hopes of alleviating the handling problem. Little went back on the track in 31st position, and as the race went back to green, Little quickly moved back into the top 25 once again.
Three caution periods within the span of 47 laps allowed Little to bring the No. 97 car back into the pits for fresh rubber, each time hoping that the next green-flag run would last late into the race. The green-flag racing that everyone expected came late in the event and saw the race run uninterrupted for 49 laps until the final caution waved on lap 178. A cycle of pit stops came under green prior to the slowing of the pace in which Hammond again opted for two tires, and as the caution flew Little was shown in 13th place. Choosing to pit for four fresh tires for the stretch run, Little returned to the track in 20th place with 26 cars running on the lead lap as the race went back to green. Little radioed to the pits as the last segment began that the car tightened up, but he battled to try to keep his position on the track over the last 18 laps of the contest.
Little drove to the checkered flag in 22nd place, finishing the afternoon on the lead lap and giving him 97 points in the Winston Cup standings. Little currently sits in 19th place in the Winston Cup point standings, but a strong run in Saturday's night race at Bristol Motor Speedway could see the gap tighten between him and the 15th-place car of Steve Park.
"We had our ups and downs out there today, but overall I felt that we had a car capable of finishing in the top 15 or higher. We were fortunate to have an early caution flag that allowed us to make a chassis adjustment to the car, and from then on out we really didn't need to do anything else to get the car dialed in. We struggled early in the weekend, but we knew that we'd be able to get the car figured out, though.
"All three lines were really working around the track and that allowed me to make adjustments to find the best line around the track given the car's handling. A couple of times we had to make our way back through the field after pitting, and having those three lanes definitely made it easier to pass. Unfortunately, the car tightened up after we took four tires on the last caution and it was impossible to put a block on those guys with so much track for them to use. I still think this is one of our better cars and I wouldn't be surprised to have it back on the track a couple more times this year. Now we head to Bristol, and that's a track where three-wide will send somebody home early."