Round and Round Goes the Testing at Lowes

 by Pete McCole
May 10, 2001

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Sterling Marlin's car is unloaded and readied for testing at Lowes.
(photos by Pete McCole)

The Winston and the Coca-Cola 600 held at Lowes Motor Speedway can make or break a Winston Cup season. This week AutoRacing1 was on the sidelines as more than 30 Winston Cup and Busch Grand National Series teams converged on Lowes Motor Speedway to take part in an open testing. This was the only chance the teams would have to test prior to their respective races later this month.

On Tuesday, Todd Bodine was fastest among the 14 NASCAR Winston Cup teams preparing for the Coca Cola 600 on Sunday May 27, and NASCAR's annual all-star battle, The Winston, scheduled for Saturday May 19. Driving the No. 66 K-mart Ford Taurus, Bodine posted a lap of 29.9 seconds, 180.602 mph, on the unofficial stopwatches.

On Wednesday, young Ryan Newman, who set the overall Lowe's Motor Speedway track record last October in an ARCA car, set the high water mark among the Winston Cup teams by clocking a time of 181.208 mph aboard a Penske Racing Ford. 

After announcing his new contract with Morgan-McClure Racing earlier in the day (Wednesday), Kevin Lepage was second fastest on the unofficial stopwatches at 181.147 mph in the No. 4 Chevrolet. Sterling Marlin's Dodge was third quickest at 179.700 with Derrike Cope (179.462) and Ken Schrader (179.342) rounding out the top five among the 14 teams.

Kevin Lepage, recently named driver of the #4 Kodak Chevrolet, thought it was critical to get a good start with his new team. "One of the reasons we're here is we missed the race at California." Lepage said. "Larry McClure and all the guys on the Kodak team decide that we needed to get a little bit head start on the (Coca-Cola) 600 race, so we come here to try to figure out what the car really wants."

Jimmy Spencer was fastest among the Busch participants preparing for the CARQUEST Auto Parts 300 on May 26th. Spenser was quickest on the unofficial stopwatches posting a top speed of 180.180 mph. After playing second fiddle to Jimmy Spencer, Green placed himself among the favorites to win the CARQUEST Auto Parts 300 on Saturday, May 26, by posting the fastest lap of the day among the 21 teams in the NASCAR Busch Series garage. Green's Ford Taurus stopped the unofficial watches at 29.990 seconds, 180.060 mph.

Jeff Green's Nesquick car heads for the track. 

Defending Busch Series champion Jeff Green, the new Goodyear tires being used in the Busch series this year has been a key. "Goodyear does a great job every week, it's a lot better tire than we've had here in the past, it drives well." Green said. "Last year the cars were fast but the cars didn't drive very good, Goodyear's done a great job with what they've done."

Two time Busch series champion Randy Lajoie was fourth fastest, posting a speed of 178.218mph. He summed up what his team was looking for during the test in one word - "Speed."

"This race track is so critical to your season," Lajoie said. "If you can hit on something here while you're testing, most likely you'll hit on something when you come back."

Marty Houston had to go to the backup car after hitting the wall.

Rounding the top five was Joe Nemechek with a speed of 177.223 mph.

David Green, driver of the #34 AFG Chevrolet, says the changing track conditions make Lowes Motor Speedway a challenging track. "I think Lowes Motor Speedway probably the most difficult track we go to." Green said, "Your car can be absolutely perfect in the morning, do nothing to it, come back at one o'clock and you think it's a different race car, just because the heat builds up in the race track. The whole race track changes so much you really have to stay ahead of it."

Busch Series rookie Marty Houston was involved in the only incident of the two-day session when he lost control coming off turn four and hit the wall in the No. 11 Chevrolet. The second-generation driver was uninjured and tested the rest of the day in the team's second car.

The author can be contacted at dougb@autoracing1.com

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