Gatorade 250 proves that Mother Nature is the one 'too tough to tame'. Darlington, SC (Aug. 31, 2002) -- At the soggy end to an extremely long weekend, Ashton Lewis, Jr. piloted the Civil Air Patrol Chevrolet to a 23rd place finish. This was...
Gatorade 250 proves that Mother Nature is the one 'too tough to tame'.
Darlington, SC (Aug. 31, 2002) -- At the soggy end to an extremely long weekend, Ashton Lewis, Jr. piloted the Civil Air Patrol Chevrolet to a 23rd place finish. This was after a weekend full of as many ups and downs as a roller coaster.
On Friday, it rained steadily all day, and the teams never got any practice time. The qualifying order was set based on NASCAR Busch Series Owner's points, which had Lewis starting in the 24th position.
On race day, it was cloudy all morning, but the dreaded rain did not fall. The Winston Cup cars took to the track for two practice sessions, and everyone's hopes were high that the race would go on as scheduled. As the Busch series drivers were leaving the garage area and heading to the stage at the start/finish line for driver introductions, the first drops began to fall. The timing left most people laughing in disbelief. As the 1:00 start time for the Gatorade 200 got closer, the rain got heavier. The rain eventually let up, and the drivers were called back to the stage for driver introductions an hour after the originally scheduled time. The jet dryers were on the track, and things were looking up again.
The drivers finally climbed into their cars, and the famous command to 'start engines' was given. It was at this point, the Civil Air Patrol Chevrolet team realized they had a problem. Driver Ashton Lewis could hear the team, but they could not hear him. The roar of engines had the fans on their feet. It also seemed to wake up the slumbering Mother Nature. The cars followed the pace car around the track under yellow flag conditions. The decision was made to bring Ashton down pit road so the crew could give him a complete new radio system. The new system worked, but Ashton now had to start at the rear of the field.
The cars made nine laps under the yellow flag before NASCAR determined it was raining too hard to keep the cars out. The red flag was shown and the Busch series cars were brought down pit road and covered (with the drivers inside) while the jet dryers and safety vehicles once again fought to keep the track dry. As time passed, one by one, the drivers began to climb out of their cars.
After 2 hours, 22 minutes and 52 seconds, NASCAR decided the track was safe and that the long awaited race could finally continue. The first few laps were run under caution so the drivers could determine if they were comfortable with the track's condition. Then, on lap 10, the green flag waved and the real racing was finally underway. On lap 11, as the No. 46 Civil Air Patrol Chevrolet came out of turn four the crew realized that the right front fender was damaged. It looked as if the car had run over something, but despite the damage, the car was handling fine and gaining track position.
The yellow flag was thrown on lap 18 when the No. 32 of Dan Pardus spun in turn three. Crew Chief Charlie Lewis made the decision not to pit under this caution. Not only was the car handling well, but NASCAR had announced they would throw a caution somewhere around lap 25, since the cars had not had any practice time. On lap 32 the No. 12 of Kerry Earnhardt and the No. 5 of Ricky Hendrick were involved in an incident in turn four. The No. 46 scraped against the wall doing damage to the right side of the car trying to avoid the incident.
Lewis brought his car down pit road to the attention of his crew. They repaired the right side damage, put two tires on the right side of the car, and filled up with fuel. As the cleanup continued on track and the race remained under caution, the team made the decision to bring the car back down pit road and put left side tires on to give the No. 46 an advantage and help gain more track position.
Their strategy was working, by lap 46 Lewis was up to 26th place. Lewis was slowly working his way through the field, but on lap 62 the No. 9 of Jeff Burton passed him, putting him a lap down. As the No. 9 passed, Lewis quipped, "I don't like going a lap down, but that guy can sure drive."
On lap 67 the No. 27 of Jamie McMurray crashed in turn three and his car caught fire. He drove the car down pit road where the safety crew extinguished the flames, and McMurray climbed out without injury. During this caution, it started to drizzle. The No. 46 crew made the decision to pit, even though all of the leaders were staying out on the track. The CAP crew put on four tires, made a track bar adjustment and filled up with fuel. Coming out of the pits along with some of the other cars a lap down, Lewis gained a position.
This put Lewis the first car a lap down, which meant he would restart the race next to race leader Jeff Burton. Lewis hoped with his four fresh tires, he would be able to pass Burton and get his lap back. As the cars continued to circle the track under caution, the rain was getting heavier, and the half way point of the race was rapidly approaching.
On lap 73, NASCAR threw the red flag and stopped the field just yards from the start/finish line. Once the cars passed the start/finish line, the race would be at lap 74, the half way point. The significance of this, is that from this point on, the checkered flag can be thrown and the race would be official in the record books. As the cars sat on the apron of the track, the jet dryers and safety vehicles were fighting a losing battle to keep the track dry. NASCAR was doing everything they could to finish the race under green flag conditions. After keeping the drivers in their cars for 58 minutes and 30 seconds, the decision was finally made to bring the cars across the start finish line under yellow flag conditions, with the checkered flag waving.
After the race, Lewis said "This has been an extremely long couple of days. We had some problems early on in the race, but the car was handling good and we were making progress. I'm just relieved that this weekend is officially over and we can start focusing on Richmond."
Lewis finished the race in 23rd position, the first car one lap down. He gained one position in the points chase and is now 20th. The next race is the Funai 250 at Richmond International Raceway on Friday, September 6th. The race will be broadcast live at 8:00 pm ET on TNT and MRN.