Park keeps climbing at The Rock By Matthew Leach ROCKINGHAM, N.C. (Feb. 27, 2000) If Steve Park keeps going the way he's going, it won't be long until he's the dominant force in NASCAR Winston Cup Series racing at North Carolina...
Park keeps climbing at The Rock By Matthew Leach
ROCKINGHAM, N.C. (Feb. 27, 2000) If Steve Park keeps going the way he's going, it won't be long until he's the dominant force in NASCAR Winston Cup Series racing at North Carolina Speedway.
In his sixth race at the tough old 1.017-mile track, Park continued an outstanding string of improved finishes at Rockingham. He picked up his first career top-10 at the track with a ninth-place showing in the Dura Lube/Kmart 400.
As a rookie, Park was simply dismal at The Rock. He started 33rd and finished 41st in February -- just the second race of his first full season -- and started 38th and finished 35th in the fall '98 race. Last year he ran respectably, starting 38th and finishing 26th in February and starting 39th and finishing 15th in November.
This time Park finally secured a decent starting spot -- qualifying 18th on Friday -- and he parlayed it into a finish that had members of the Pennzoil team slapping fives when he climbed out of the car.
It took patience, experience and a lot of help from the "boys back at the shop" to put the third-year driver into the top-10 at one of NASCAR's oldest and nastiest tracks.
"These guys gave me an awesome race car this whole weekend," Park said. "We came off of a strong second half last year and we struggled at the restrictor-plate race (last week's Daytona 500, in which Park placed 31st), and I think we were all looking forward to coming back and doing some non-restrictor-plate racing.
"Rockingham's a tough place and it's hard to figure out, but the more and more laps I turn here the more and more experience I get and the more and more I get it figured out. Running with Mark Martin and them guys also gives you a good opportunity to try to figure this place out. It still seems like the old veterans know how to get their way around here."
Park nearly passed Martin for an eighth-place finish on the last lap, but he wasn't able to get around the man who is one of Rockingham's acknowledged masters.
It's worth noting that Park has made more NASCAR Winston Cup Series starts at North Carolina Speedway than at any other track. He ran there as part of his limited schedule in 1997, and his injuries from a 1998 wreck at Atlanta didn't cause him to miss either event at the track that year.
So Rockingham may well be the best place to judge Park's progress in NASCAR's top series. If that's indeed true, he's in pretty good shape.
"We were getting top-15s last year and one of our goals was to turn them into top-10s and top-5s," Park said, "and I thought we had a top-5 car today but we didn't have circumstances to get us in there. We came back with a good solid top-10 finish. That'll help us out after the poor finish we had last week and now we'll go out to Las Vegas."
And at Las Vegas, he's climbed from not making the race, to finishing 16th last year ... Look out.