Steve Park - "Yellow Fever"

'Yellow Fever' keeps Park from green LAS VEGAS (March 8, 1999) Steve Park's favorite color should be yellow. But it isn't right now. The second-year driver's uniform is yellow, his car is yellow and since he is the driver of the No. 1 ...

'Yellow Fever' keeps Park from green

LAS VEGAS (March 8, 1999) Steve Park's favorite color should be yellow. But it isn't right now.

The second-year driver's uniform is yellow, his car is yellow and since he is the driver of the No. 1 Pennzoil Monte Carlo, most of the clothes he wears around the track have a little bit of the Houston oil company's corporate yellow in them.

But after some untimely yellow caution flags at NASCAR Winston Cup races in Rockingham last week and in Las Vegas on Sunday, the color yellow only makes the 31-year-old driver see red.

"I'd like to see us go caution-free the rest of the year the way the yellow flags have bitten us in the last two weeks," Park said after Sunday's latest case of yellow fever.

Before the final yellow flag flew in the second annual Las Vegas 400, Park and his Dale Earnhardt Inc. teammates were looking at a chance for good finish. Instead they saw yellow once again take away a chance for a whole lot of green. With about sixty laps left in the race on the flat 1.5-mile oval, Park seemed poised to post his first top-five finish in his brief NASCAR Winston Cup career. Although he was a lap down running in 18th place, the Pennzoil team's fuel strategy was ready to earn itself a big payday.

"Bud, keep doing what you are doing because all but one or two of these cars ahead of you is going to have to come in for gas," said crew chief Philippe Lopez. "We can go all the way."

Only Mark Martin, who was in the top five at the time, could finish the race, like Park, without a pit stop. If the others pitted, its doubtful any could come in and out of the pits quick enough to stay in front or catch Park.

Not only was a good finish at stake, but a top-five finish meant Park would qualify as one of the five cars eligible for a million dollars if he were to win at Charlotte in May. This was a big money roll of the dice in the gambling capitol of the world.

The laps wound down and the frontrunners desperately needing a caution to maintain their positions screamed over the radio asking for NASCAR to throw the yellow caution flag and give them an opportunity to pit.

Drivers reported debris in the third turn, on the backstretch and others amazingly noticed debris in turn one. The Pennzoil team prayed for a nice, caution-free ending to an otherwise entertaining race.

NASCAR ignored appeals for a caution radioing back to the drivers that any debris on the track was out of the racing groove. The race continued under green. The odds of the Pennzoil team pulling off an amazing work of strategy appeared to be growing with each passing lap.

"There's only thirty laps to go and you are turning the laps times we need. If this goes green its going to work out for us," said Steve Hmiel, DEI's technical director. "Be gentle with the throttle. It's all coming to you."

Then it all went away. NASCAR said oil from Geoffrey Bodine's car lay in the groove around the first turn. The yellow flag flew. The leaders were allowed to pit. The chance for a top five went out the window along with the million dollars. "Man that killed us," said Park after the race. "Last week at Rockingham we pitted on lap 209 and when did the first yellow come out? Lap 209 while we were sitting in the pits! That's hard to believe. Two weeks in a row the yellow has got us."

But Sunday's wasn't a sad story. In fact it was a good day.

After losing a lap to the leaders on lap 80, Park managed to drive with the frontrunners for the rest of the race; often passing cars that ended up in the top five. The Pennzoil car rolled through the corners as well as eventual winner Jeff Burton and seemed to be about the third or fourth quickest car on the track for most of the race.

"The way you are driving they are going to move Yankee Stadium to North Eastport or wherever the heck you are from in New York," cheered Hmiel over the radio, twisting the name of his East Northport, N.Y. driver's hometown.

Park nearly regained his lap on several occasions but fell just a second or two short each time. For a team that struggled to qualify only 40th on Friday, Sunday's performance was one to build upon.

"We were really good today," Park said. "We started in the back of the field and when you do that you waste so much time racing back there in traffic that the leaders have a chance to get around and lap you. If we hadn't been lapped I think we had a chance for a top-five finish even with getting that bad break with the yellow flag."

Park walked out of Las Vegas with a 16th-place finish and moved up to 26th in the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup point standings - eleven places higher than where he was before the race. But more importantly, Park and his Dale Earnhardt Inc. teammates left Las Vegas with the knowledge that their car and driver are just as fast as the leaders.

That belief, and a little luck, might lead Park and crew to forget, yellow, red, or whatever color flag sits in the bin of the NASCAR flag man on the front stretch at Atlanta Motor Speedway where they race next weekend.

The only flag that's going to matter to the Pennzoil crew at the Georgia track is checkered.

Source: NASCAR Online

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Burton , Steve Park , Geoffrey Bodine , Mark Martin