(May 18, 1999) -- State Fair Pontiac driver Derrike Cope believes there are signs of improvement at Bahari' Racing and Saturday's Winston Open will give the team a prime opportunity to show it. Owner Chuck Rider's team has added three crewmen...
(May 18, 1999) -- State Fair Pontiac driver Derrike Cope believes there are signs of improvement at Bahari' Racing and Saturday's Winston Open will give the team a prime opportunity to show it.
Owner Chuck Rider's team has added three crewmen in the last two weeks and heads to Lowe's Motor Speedway brimming with renewed confidence. Chris Andrews, a former employee of CART driver Bobby Rahal, started Monday as the State Fair Racing team's new engineer. John McQueen, who previously served as Dan Pardus' crew chief, is the team's new shock specialist, and Ernie Cope, Derrike's cousin, is the new car chief.
Most of the new help was in place for two tests the team recently conducted. Two weeks ago, Cope posted the 12th-fastest speed among nearly 30 drivers that tested at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Last Tuesday, Cope and crew spent the day testing at Memphis Motorsports Park. Cope came away from both tests encouraged.
"I have a sense over the test sessions that the new people instilled a quiet, calming effect on the rest of the team," Cope said. "I think we made a step up in personnel, which is hard to do in the middle of the year. I feel real good about what we've got. I think we're on track. I think we needed an infusion of new talent and I feel we've definitely made some headway."
Cope was the last driver to earn a pole position at Charlotte. He shocked the NASCAR scene by earning the top spot for last October's UAW-GM Quality 500. He led six laps and wound up 14th on the lead lap. A test session prior to that run had Cope confident, and he sees similarities between that test session and the one conducted at Charlotte two weeks ago.
"I thought our test session went well again," Cope said. "We weren't the fastest car there, but we posted some solid times. We were in the hunt. I think when we come back with our actual qualifying motor we can run a better lap and surprise some people again. I think there's still something left in Derrike Cope. I look forward to going to Charlotte because it has been a good place for me."
In 10 previous Winston Open starts, Cope has a high of fifth, earned in 1988. He finished 11th in the race last year.
"In a way, we'll use the Winston Open as a kind of test session," Cope said. "We'll run the car we actually sat on the pole with last season. We'll see from qualifying results and the Winston Open if that's the car we want to run in the Coca-Cola 600 the following week or if we want to go with the one we recently tested with at Charlotte."
State Fair is one of four Sara Lee companies serving as rotating sponsors on Rider's Pontiac this year. The others are Jimmy Dean, Bryan and Rudy's Farm. State Fair is making its first hood appearance since the March 7 Las Vegas 400. State Fair Brand Corn Dogs are THE corn dog of NASCAR.