Bickle Pocono race notes

LONG POND, PA (July 23, 2000) - Seeing Terry Labonte's No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet charge through the field in the late stages of a race at Pocono International Raceway is nothing new. Seeing Rich Bickle wheeling Labonte's Hendrick ...

LONG POND, PA (July 23, 2000) - Seeing Terry Labonte's No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet charge through the field in the late stages of a race at Pocono International Raceway is nothing new. Seeing Rich Bickle wheeling Labonte's Hendrick Motorsports mount to the front in Sunday's Pennsylvania 500 was. "We were pretty good all day long," said Bickle, who posted a solid 11th-place finish subbing for the injured Labonte in the NASCAR Winston Cup event. "At times we were just a tick tight and at times, a tick loose. Gary (crew chief Gary DeHart) and the guys kept on adjusting on the car all day long and at the end of the race, we were running lap times equal to what the second place car was running. Track position is key at Pocono. We had a Top-5 car, we just ran out of laps." Bickle got the call to relieve Labonte at midweek and made the most of the opportunity by qualifying the car 22nd Friday with a lap of 169.635 miles per hour on the 2.5-mile triangular Pocono oval. Labonte then started Sunday's race at the rear of the 43-car field allowing the Corpus Christi, TX driver to be credited with the points earned in the race. Bickle then took over the seat when the first caution flew on Lap 25. "Terry was really hurting," said Bickle of Labonte, who broke his right leg in a crash at Daytona International Speedway July 2. "It hurt me just to watch him get out of the car. I'm quite a bit bigger than Terry, so we had a bunch of padding in the seat to make him comfortable. We were able to make the driver switch under caution without losing a lap, but we were shotgun on the field in 43rd when they waved the green flag again." With 175 laps remaining in the 500-mile event. Bickle knew he had time to work his way to the front. By the halfway mark, the Edgerton, WI driver had broken into the Top-20 and had his sights set on a Top-10 finish. "Pocono is a tough place, one of the toughest we race at," said Bickle, who finished seventh in this race a year ago behind the wheel of the #45 Tyler Jet Motorsports Pontiac. "I knew I had to be patient if I had any shot of getting to the front." Bickle continued his strong performance pitting with the leaders when the caution waved for the seventh and final time with just over 30 laps remaining. Taking on four tires while most of his competitors elected to take two, Bickle fell back to 19th in the running order in the restart. "Taking four tires was the right call for us," said Bickle. "A lot of guys were having tire problems and the last thing we wanted to do was wind up in the fence after such a good run. Besides, we thought four fresh tires would be faster than two and we were right. Like I said, we just ran out of laps at the end." Bickle earned $60,565 for the effort. More importantly, he garnered 130 points for Labonte in the race for the 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup championship. Labonte is now 13th in the season points chase. "Everyone was so terrific all weekend long," said Bickle. "Terry, Gary DeHart, all the guys on the Kellogg's Chevy crew, even the guys from the other Hendrick Motorsports teams were great to me. I can't thank Rick and John Hendrick enough for thinking enough of me to drive one of their cars. It was a real honor to work with all of them. I'm just glad I could reward their confidence with a good performance." Bickle will next return to the NASCAR Busch Series ranks driving his #91 Popeyes Chicken and Biscuits/Aqua Velva Pontiac in the Carquest Auto Parts 250 at Gateway International Raceway Saturday, July 29. He will be looking for his third Top-5 finish in just five NBS starts this season when the green flag drops at 9 p.m. Eastern Time. While Bickle is excited about his Busch Series exploits, he still has an eye on a Winston Cup career. "A lot of people came up to me and said they were happy to see me back in the Winston Cup garage area," said Bickle, who will drive the #61 Xpress Motorsports in the Brickyard 400 Winston Cup race at Indianapolis August 5. "That was pretty important to me. I feel like I'm respected there. I've been doing my own Busch Series deal this season, in part because I wanted to see if I could do it, but also because I haven't had the best of luck in Winston Cup. I've had sponsorship deals fall apart and team owners not follow through with what they promised. It's been pretty frustrating at times. To come back here and be well received and then run well makes me feel like I belong here. "Maybe someday I'll get a good Cup ride. I'm only 39, I've been around a long time so people forget I'm still a young guy with a lot of good years left in me. Heck, Harry Gant didn't get a real chance until he was in his 40s. Bobby Allison and Cale Yarborough were big winners in their 40s, Dale Earnhardt still is. I don't think age has anything to do with it. It's whether you can drive and if you have the right kind of opportunity. I know I can drive and I believe I can win races in Winston Cup. I just need a good team to give me that chance."

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Rich Bickle , Terry Labonte , Bobby Allison , Harry Gant , Cale Yarborough
Teams Hendrick Motorsports