Iryan On The Record:/I Darlington
March 21, 2002 | 12:00 A.M. EST
Friday’s practice yielded top-ten times but the unusually warm March temperatures would produce different times in qualifying. We qualified early in the order, keeping in mind the two Busch poles from last season.
Sterling Marlin established the early fast time, 29.154 second lap but Ken Schrader bested him by .03 second with a 29.122. We were the first car to dip into the 28’s with a 28.945 seconds and that lap stood until the 38th of 43 drivers to take their turn. Ricky Craven posted a 28.912 second lap to earn his second pole of 2002. We would start third behind Jeff Gordon.
A third top-five starting spot in five races is definitely not shabby for a rookie team. Some people might think we’re disappointed coming close so many times and not getting the pole, but we’re really pleased with what we’ve been able to do.
First practice on Saturday we worked on our race set-up and we felt really good about the car for Sunday. Once “Happy Hour” we continued to tweak on the ALLTEL Ford.
The car was a little loose and we hoped to tighten it up before the session ended, but with five minutes left in practice I lost control and backed into the outside retaining wall. I was fine but the team would need to pull out the back-up car.
With the back-up car, we would go to the back of the field for the start of the race. But we had 293-laps to work through the field.
The car started out tight at the beginning of the race. I had worked up to 35th and held that position until the first caution on lap 39 when the leader, Steve Park got into Stacy Compton and collected second-place Ricky Craven.
My crew chief Matt Borland called for several changes in an attempt to fix the handling and the results were evident immediately. I worked through the field to 21st before the next caution on lap 88.
I continued to improve on my position and looked like we were on our way to a top-ten finish until we were caught in the pits on lap 196 caution. We restarted 16th, on the tail end of the lead lap.
Patience and perseverance paid off because the caution waved again on lap 226 when Buckshot Jones collected the leader Tony Stewart and several other top competitors. We restarted fifth on lap 241 and remained there until the finish.
Finishing in the top five with the ALLTEL Ford was a great feat considering we had to go to a backup car after yesterday's accident. The pit stops were awesome all day. We got caught a lap down there, but they did an awesome job of getting me out and getting track position so we could come back and finish in the top five.
We maintained our position in the points, second to Sterling Marlin, and are still atop the Rookie of the Year Standings.
We’re really forward to Bristol and hopefully will continue our consistent finishes.