LONG POND, Pa. (July 23, 2000) - The Winston Cup circuit's second trip to Pocono Raceway came within the span of four races from the first, and Chad Little and the John Deere crew used what they learned just one month ago to put together a...
LONG POND, Pa. (July 23, 2000) - The Winston Cup circuit's second trip to Pocono Raceway came within the span of four races from the first, and Chad Little and the John Deere crew used what they learned just one month ago to put together a complete weekend from start to finish. Little turned a lap on Friday that put the No. 97 Ford in the top 30 for the start of the race, and he left the track on Sunday with his 11th top-20 finish on the season.
The 2.5-mile oval wasn't forgiving to the 43-car field as over the course of the 500-mile race, 11 cars retired early with engine problems. In fact, most of the seven caution flags on the afternoon were not for on-track contact but for fluid laid down on the track by those forced into the garage. Little and the John Deere crew took advantage of each caution period for fuel or adjustments as the slow-moving clouds overhead impacted the car's handling during Sunday's four-hour race.
Little began the race fighting a loose-handling condition, but an early caution flag on lap 25 provided Little the opportunity to remedy the problem. Little then drove the John Deere Ford into the top 10 on lap 72, utilizing a pit strategy that allowed the team to stretch their fuel mileage. The team caught the break they were hoping for on lap 75 as the fourth caution flag waved. The fuel mileage gamble allowed Little to make his way to sixth place before the subsequent pit stop, however, an improperly functioning air gun cost the team track positions, and when the race went back to green on lap 80, Little was back in the 28th position.
Little worked his way through the field during the next green-flag segment reaching 17th before the fifth caution flag on lap 111. Entering the pits for service, Little returned to the race track in 21st position, and over the next 50 laps Little would battle to earn a place in the top 20.
The final caution flag waved on lap 164, and with the opportunity to go the rest of the race on fuel, the team made a slight adjustment on the track bar, fueled the car and put on fresh rubber before sending Little back on to the track in 21st. Little would trade positions over the last 32 laps before crossing the finish line in 20th place, his second straight top-20 finish at Pocono Raceway.
Little's 20th-place performance moved him up one spot in the Winston Cup point standings to 21st, but only trails 15th-place driver Jeremy Mayfield by 153 points. The John Deere Motorsports crew will spend the next two days testing at Watkins Glen, as they have next weekend off to prepare for the seventh annual Brickyard 400 at famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday, August 5.
"We had a good car this weekend, but we weren't able to capitalize on some of the opportunities we had today. The weekend, as a whole, was better than our last visit here, and to come away from Pocono with two top-20 finishes is something we haven't done before. We're starting to get a handle on this track, and this was always one of our weaker tracks on the circuit.
"The mix of sun and clouds really seemed to have an affect on the track conditions, and the car went from loose to tight as the clouds passed by. We made a spring rubber adjustment on the first stop, but the rest of the afternoon we fine-tuned the car with only air pressure or track bar changes. We kind of chased the weather, but the car handled pretty good in the corners for the entire race.
"We've got another off weekend coming up before heading to Indy, and after last week's test there I think we have some more confidence going into there as well. We want to finish out the season as best we can, and with some more consistency I can see this team getting back into the top 15."