COPE HOPES CHANGES PROVE HELPFUL TO TEXAS LAYOUT

(March 23, 1999) -- Jimmy Dean Pontiac driver Derrike Cope felt something like a participant in a laboratory experiment at Texas Motor Speedway last season, but he hopes the facelift given to the 1.5-mile superspeedway proves to be just what the doctor ordered in Sunday's Primestar 500.

Cope re-broke two ribs after crashing in a wet turn one during an aborted time trial session at Texas last year. Nine cars attempted to qualify and both Cope and Lake Speed crashed before NASCAR officials finally postponed the qualifying session due to water seeping up through the asphalt in turn one. To make matters worse, NASCAR ruled the nine drivers who qualified couldn't go the following day after the problem was fixed.

"NASCAR and the race track were really tough on us there last year," Cope said. "They never gave the team the opportunity with another driver to try and get into the field. I would have thought at the very least they would have given everyone an option at qualifying again. The race track was in no condition to go out and qualify."

Now Cope is set to return to Texas for Friday's time trials. He hopes extensive changes to the racing layout will prove beneficial. Since last year's race the track has been significantly widened in areas and transitions from corners to straightaways improved.

"I'm hoping to go down there and get myself in the race and have a better experience at Texas this time," Cope said. "I've left there disappointed a number of times and I'd like to experience leaving there on a good note for a change."

Cope is hopeful of driving some competitive muscle at Texas. Superspeedways like Charlotte's similar 1.5-mile layout have proven to be kind to Cope and the Bahari' Racing team. Cope won the pole in last October's race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, another 1.5-mile track. He also led four laps under green at Atlanta last March. Those performances boost Cope's confidence.

"I hope we can go down to Texas and run well," Cope said. "I'll guarantee you I'll drive that Jimmy Dean Pontiac as hard as I can."

Jimmy Dean is one of four Sara Lee companies rotating as primary sponsors on owner Chuck Rider's Pontiacs this season. The others are Bryan, State Fair and Rudy's Farm.