Park deals with a fact of rookie life LAS VEGAS, Nev. (March 1, 1998) - When Pennzoil, Dale Earnhardt Inc., and Steve Park announced the formation of a new full-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series team at Darlington Raceway last September, nearly ...
Park deals with a fact of rookie life
LAS VEGAS, Nev. (March 1, 1998) - When Pennzoil, Dale Earnhardt Inc., and Steve Park announced the formation of a new full-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series team at Darlington Raceway last September, nearly everyone asked about the difficulty of making the fields in the first four races of the 1998 season.
Park and company experienced the grim reality on Saturday when they failed to qualify for the inaugural Las Vegas 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the first time in three events they've failed to make the field.
About 50 cars compete for only 43 starting spots each week, and no new team can rely on provisional starting positions that would allow them into the field whenever they didn't qualify in the top-36 positions.
Add to that the time it takes for a rookie driver to learn the new tracks and the heavier cars in auto racing's most competitive series and you had the ingredients for some stressful early-season Bud Pole Qualifying sessions.
"I know what we are about to do is going to be tough," Park said. "But we will do our best and see what happens. Nobody is going to try or work harder than any of us. We are a new team and therefore at a disadvantage, but you have to start somewhere."
For Park, that stress started in Daytona, where a gamble in Bud Second-Round Qualifying paid dividends and ultimately allowed him in the field. But a mid-race accident at Rockingham created the problems that were to continue to plague Park when NASCAR Winston Cup Series cars visited Las Vegas.
"We crashed the car in Rockingham that we wanted to bring to Vegas," Park said. "That really set us back. We didn't have a test out here either so we knew going into this weekend it was going to be pretty tough."
Park started the week in fine form, posting a top-25 speed in a 4-hour practice on Thursday. After an engine change on Friday the Pennzoil team thought it added horsepower, but changing track conditions and quicker lap times by other teams caused Park to slide down the time chart.
"The motor felt better, but we went slower," Park said. "We are also trying to improve the balance in the car."
On Friday, Park's Bud Pole Qualifying run left him in 45th place. With only a 90-minute practice session left before Bud Second-Round Qualifying on Saturday, Park's chances seemed slim. The team completed a frantic change to a third engine just before sending the Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate onto the track, but the track had slowed dramatically and Park managed only the 43rd-best time.
All rookies seemed to struggle at the flat, fast track. Kevin Lepage was the fastest rookie, placing 35th, while rookie contenders Kenny Irwin and Jerry Nadeau finished 44th and 41st, respectively. Irwin made Sunday's race on a provisional, while Nadeau did not because his new team had no provisionals.
For the Pennzoil crew, failure to qualify meant packing up and returning to Charlotte to prepare for next Sunday's PRIMESTAR 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Park stayed in Las Vegas to greet Pennzoil employees and customers attending the race, then returned to Charlotte.
All agreed the weekend is part of the growing pains of a new team.
"Man, this hurts, no doubt, but this isn't the end of the world," Park said. "We knew this could happen, but we have good people here who work hard and we will overcome this. We had a great test session in Atlanta so we are going to go there and qualify at the front of the field."
Source: NASCAR Online