Talladega Thunderbird notes

"Birds" fly high at Talladega By Dave Rodman TALLADEGA, Ala. (Oct. 11, 1998) For a while Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, it was shades of 1997 as Jimmy Spencer and Chad Little flirted with top spot in the Winston 500 -- in Ford ...

"Birds" fly high at Talladega By Dave Rodman

TALLADEGA, Ala. (Oct. 11, 1998) For a while Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, it was shades of 1997 as Jimmy Spencer and Chad Little flirted with top spot in the Winston 500 -- in Ford Thunderbirds, no less.

Ford's Taurus model has been the manufacturer's choice this season in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. But teams have continued to field their Thunderbirds when the track suits both them and the chassis.

No less than five teams opted to race Thunderbirds at Talladega, and four made the race. When it all shook out, Spencer and Little were integral parts of an eight-car lead draft that fought for the win behind Dale Jarrett's victorious Taurus.

Little, who qualified 15th, moved into the top-10 within the first 10 laps. His fortunes carried him in and out for the day, but he was mostly "in" for about the last 60 laps and, given a little better "air management," he might've finished even better than eighth in his John Deere Thunderbird.

Spencer, on the other hand, started way back in 36th, but had marched up to the top-10 in less than 40 laps. He led for nine laps after a caution flag shuffled the running order, and he was a fixture at the front after that. Even though team owner Travis Carter was wearing a long face in the garage after the show, Spencer was truly on cloud nine.

"We're happy with a top-five finish," Spencer said. "I thought we might have something to win the race, but we came up short. I like restrictor plate racing. You've gotta be real patient and you've gotta have a good car and be handling all day long."

In Spencer's case, it seemed like the NASCAR officials' lectures on patience and respect in the pre-race drivers' meeting were heeded. The finishing laps left many in the huge crowd breathless -- and not a few of them were in the driver's seats.

"I'm just glad I was racing against professionals," Spencer said. "Bobby Labonte and Terry Labonte and Dale Jarrett ... every one of them. They pushed and shoved as far as they could, but they never went over the line. I've just gotta tip my hat to every one of them. I hope they respect me for what I did today."

Little was overjoyed to come out of Talladega with his second straight top-10 after a previous week's eighth at Charlotte in a green Taurus.

"It was a really good day and we're pleased, very pleased," Little said. "This is two top-10s in a row and on two completely different types of race tracks, so that's good.

"It's not just that I like this T-bird. You saw that Mark (teammate Martin) was good and, obviously, Dale Jarrett is pretty awesome in his Taurus, but we just thought we were more prepared with the Thunderbird.

"It was proven when we got it from Jeff Burton, so that part of it was out of the equation. The setup we used with it the first part of the year at Daytona and Talladega seemed to work pretty good, so we had that part of the equation."

The other two Thunderbirds in the race finished 26th (Robert Pressley's Jasper Engines car) and 28th (Billy Standridge's Team fanscanrace.com 'bird).

"To get the Taurus to run fast you really have to trim it out," said Carter, who indicated he had not made his mind up which car -- Taurus or Thunderbird -- to run at Daytona. "I mean have it dragging the ground. For us, it's extremely hard to drive a car like that in the race. The Thunderbird you can back off and put a more comfortable setup in it without giving up as much speed. That seems to be the real difference."

"The T-Bird doesn't have as much drag as the Taurus has," said Little's owner Jack Roush, who said that when the car was damaged, it would not be rebuilt. "The Thunderbird that Chad is driving was the best of the T-Birds that we ever had. It was the T-Bird that Jeff Burton qualified third or fourth with here last year. We were very proud of that, so we decided we were gonna keep that T-Bird and benchmark it."

And, after its run Sunday, there's a chance a 'bird or two may fly in Daytona next weekend.

Source: NASCAR Online

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Dale Jarrett , Bobby Labonte , Terry Labonte , Jimmy Spencer , Chad Little , Jack Roush