MIKE BLISS AND TEAM HAVE STRONG SHOWING IN FIRST RACE OF SEASON Bliss puts forth stunning qualifying effort; team captures 21st place finish in Atlanta HAMPTON, Ga. (March 18, 2007) -- Mike Bliss will be the first to tell you that Atlanta Motor...
MIKE BLISS AND TEAM HAVE STRONG SHOWING IN FIRST RACE OF SEASON
Bliss puts forth stunning qualifying effort; team captures 21st place finish in Atlanta
HAMPTON, Ga. (March 18, 2007) -- Mike Bliss will be the first to tell you that Atlanta Motor Speedway is one of his favorite tracks. Known for fast, multi-groove racing, Atlanta Motor Speedway was the site of his last win. When the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series came to Atlanta this weekend, Bliss and the BAM Racing team had something to prove. Bliss did just that in qualifying for the Kobalt Tools 500 when he earned a career-best ninth-place NEXTEL Cup Series starting position for both himself and the organization. The team went on to run a competitive race on Sunday and capture a 21st place finish.
Bliss garnered attention on Friday night when he took the track for qualifying. The last of the "go-or-go home' cars to make a qualifying attempt, Bliss stunned the racing community and a national viewing audience when he ran at pole speed until going into turn-three on both laps. For a team that had not made a race this season, Bliss proved the competitive level of BAM Racing by qualifying in the ninth position for Sunday's race.
As the team prepared to make its first start of the season on Sunday, crew chief Lee McCall focused and praised his team.
"Everyone has done a great job this weekend," said McCall. "It's a long race today. Our main goals are to take care of the tires, finish the race and get more time together."
As racing action began, the team knew that the No. 49 ZoneLoans Dodge would be better on long green flag runs. By lap 10, Bliss had dropped to 20th in the running order. However, by lap 25, he reported that he was happy with the car and was posting lap times consistent with the leader.
"At first, we had no grip at all but then the car came to us," relayed Bliss when the first of six cautions came out on lap 37.
He brought the No. 49 Dodge to pit road for four tires, fuel and a slight air pressure adjustment. He lined up to restart the race in the 25th position. After 35 laps of racing, the team noted that there were no issues with the tires on the racecar.
Shortly after the restart, Bliss was on the move passing three cars in two laps. By lap 75, he was running in the 21st position and was prepared to make the first round of green flag pit stops of the afternoon. He came to pit road on lap 86 for four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment.
The adjustments made the ZoneLoans Dodge slightly loose and the team made corrections during green flag pit stops on lap 134. When the caution flag flew on lap 144, Bliss was running in the 29th position one lap down to leader. He came to pit road for four tires, fuel and adjustments.
"We'll keep working on it," McCall radioed his driver. "There's still a long way to go in this race."
By the mid-point of the race, Bliss was running in 30th place one lap down. Bliss was racing to be the first car one lap down in order to get back on the lead lap should a caution come out.
When another caution came out on lap 231, the team opted not to pit and Bliss was listed as the first car one lap down. On the restart, he put distance between himself and the other cars on his lap. By lap 250, he was listed as 19th in the running order. When the caution came out on lap 271, Bliss was second in line to be the beneficiary of returning to the lap as the struggling car of Kevin Harvick had recently gone a lap down due to engine problems.
After coming to pit road, Bliss restarted the race in 22nd place with just over 50 laps to go. When the checkered flag flew after 325 laps of racing, Bliss earned a 21st place finish in his first NEXTEL Cup Series start of the season.
"This weekend was a real confidence builder for our team," commented Bliss. "With so many teams attempting races this year, good teams are going home every week. We know we have a strong team with competitive cars and we finally had to chance to prove it. We are ready to move forward with our season and continue to gain ground in the owner point standings with hard work and determination."
The NEXTEL Cup Series heads to Bristol Motor Speedway this week for debut of the Car of Tomorrow in NASCAR competition.