Highs and Lowes, Testing at Charlotte
by Pete McCole

May 7, 2002

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Nearly 40 Winston Cup and Busch Grand National descended on Lowe's Motor Speedway on Monday for the first of a two-day open testing session held at the track in preparation for the upcoming events at the end of May.

Rudd was fastest in practice on Monday.
Photo: Mike Veglia

Ricky Rudd was fastest among the Winston Cup teams testing for the May 18th Winston all-star race, as well as the May 26th Coca-Cola 600, topping the speed charts with an unofficial lap time of 30.13 seconds, or 179.223 mph in the Robert Yates-owned Havoline Taurus. 

Rudd is expected to make his 656th consecutive start during the Coca-Cola 600, breaking the "Iron Man" record held by Terry Labonte. Rudd tied the mark with his 655th consecutive start last weekend at Richmond.

"I'm very proud of this record," Rudd said. "To me, it says that I've worked hard and have been determined to do what I'm hired to do each week. Hopefully that says something good about me personally. I love racing and am very proud to be known for such a long run of consecutive races."

Rudd looks to make his 656th straight start in the Coca-Cola 600 later this month.
Photo: David Yaeck

"The Richmond and Charlotte areas are very special places to me," Rudd went on to say. "I've lived in either the Chesapeake, VA. or the Charlotte area all my life, so these are my two home tracks. I really couldn't think of any better places for me to earn this accomplishment." 

Rookie Jimmie Johnson was second fastest in the Lowe's Chevrolet at 178.571 mph while veteran Mark Martin's Ford was third at 178.159 mph. Casey Atwood (177.924) and Bobby Hamilton (177.223) rounded out the top-five. 

"We raced really good here in both races last year, so we're just working on qualifying." Bobby Hamilton said. "We didn't qualify that good, so that's why we're here is to work on qualifying."

"For qualifying, as the day goes on, the track gets cooler, it gets a lot more grip and sometimes it get tighter and the speeds are a lot greater, so you have to make a choice about the chassis setup. Early on, you might make the car tighter than usual, and as the night goes on if you draw a really late (qualifying) number then you want the car real free. It's real delicate balance, but not nearly as bad for the race, because you have time to adjust."

Also testing on Monday was Joe Nemechek, testing a car provided by Dale Earnhardt, Inc. that he hopes to run in The Winston. Nemechek was eligible to run in The Winston after winning at Rockingham last year driving for Andy Petree Racing. This season, Nemechek moved to Haas-Carter Motorsports and found himself without a ride after his sponsor, K-Mart, filed for bankruptcy earlier this year. 

Joe Nemechek will run a DEI entry in The Winston.
Photo: Pete McCole

"We're trying a lot of motor stuff, a lot of body stuff, chassis stuff, just trying to get a feel because there's a lot of difference between cars." Nemechek said, "We're just trying to get the best we can right now."

"We're looking forward to The Winston. You have to get your cars right in order to go fast, and that first 40-lap segment is going so important. If you're off a little bit and there's no caution, you're not going to be running the rest of it, so you have to be on top of your game here."

On the Busch Grand National side it was Bobby Hamilton, Jr., son of Winston Cup stand out Bobby Hamilton, who was fastest among the 22 teams testing for the May 25 CARQUEST Auto Parts 300. Hamilton, driving the #25 Team Marines Chevy, set an unofficial speed of 173.663 mph around the 1.5 mile track. Jack Sprague was second fastest in his Chevrolet at 173.410 mph. Jeff Burton was third fastest at 73.244 mph, Kerry Earnhardt (173.021) and Michael Waltrip (172.855) completed the top five.

Two drivers were involved in crashes that ended their testing sessions early. Stacy Compton, driving the #14 Conseco Pontiac for A.J. Foyt, slammed the outside wall, and former Indy Car driver Roberto Guerrero, testing a Busch Grand National car, lost control in turn four and made contact with the wall. Both drivers were uninjured.

Testing for both series continues on Tuesday.

NASCAR Winston Cup Series 

1. Ricky Rudd, 179.223 mph; 2. Jimmie Johnson, 178.571; 3. Mark Martin, 178.159; 4. Casey Atwood, 177.924; 5. Bobby Hamilton, 177.223; 6. Dave Blaney, 176.817; 7. Bill Elliott, 176.471; 8. Jeremy Mayfield, 176.355; 9. Robby Gordon, 176.298; 10. Rick Mast, 175.781. 

NASCAR Busch Series 

1. Bobby Hamilton Jr., 173.633 mph; 2. Jack Sprague, 173.410; 3. Jeff Burton, 173.244; 4. Kerry Earnhardt, 173.021; 5. Michael Waltrip, 172.855; 6. Ricky Hendrick, 172.689. 

The author can be contacted nascar@autoracing1.com

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