Houston to face Darlington challenge for first time

DARLINGTON, S.C. (March 14, 2001) -- Though Andy Houston has tested but never competed at Darlington Raceway, the rookie Winston Cup driver has no false impressions of the daunting 1.366-mile oval. Houston, driver of the No.

DARLINGTON, S.C. (March 14, 2001) -- Though Andy Houston has tested but never competed at Darlington Raceway, the rookie Winston Cup driver has no false impressions of the daunting 1.366-mile oval.

Houston, driver of the No. 96 McDonald's Ford Taurus, will get his first look under race conditions this weekend at the Darlington facility, better known as the track "Too Tough To Tame."

"Darlington is everything you hear about," said Houston, who conducted a two-day test session at Darlington last fall in a PPI Motorsports car. "I don't have any uneasiness about going there, but I do understand the difficulties of racing there. You have to run quite a different line than you do at most places. All-in-all it was pretty neat and fun to test at a place that has as much history and heritage as Darlington.

"I felt comfortable with the track when I tested. The groove is very narrow, it's right at the outside wall. I could also see where passing will be pretty tough. But that's all part of the learning curve for this rookie year - to figure out these places and learn where you can pass and where you can't and develop a better understanding of how the car reacts during the course of the race. I'm going to Darlington with an open mind and looking forward to running strong in our McDonald's Ford."

Houston has politely accepted the advice he has received on Darlington, but he knows that it will all come down to how quickly he can adapt to the intimidating egg-shaped oval.

"There really isn't a whole lot people can tell you that will help," said Houston, who will debut a new car in Darlington. "They can tell you this and tell you that, but until you get out there and experience it for yourself, that's when you're going to know what to do. You don't have much time to learn, but I have a pretty good idea of what it's going to take.

"The key to Darlington is coming off the trailer strong. You need to be pretty close with the car setup when practice starts. But if you aren't, it's not necessarily the end. You just have to work harder to find the problem and make the right adjustments. But it does make it a whole lot easier if the setup is close when the car is unloaded."

Houston, 30, might not like his early baptism in Winston Cup racing, but the former Craftsman Truck Series star hasn't changed his focus from the beginning of the year. After a strong performance during the Daytona Speedweeks where he started ninth for the Daytona 500, Houston ran into a roadblock at the next two races before rebounding last week in Atlanta.

He failed to qualify at Rockingham and Las Vegas, but finished a respectable 21st in last weekend's 500-mile race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

"I knew going in that this was going to be tough, but at the same time we felt that we would have had more success early on," said Houston. "Not qualifying in those two races knocked us a back a little. The Atlanta result wasn't what we were looking for, but we still wound up 21st. That's not a great day, it's middle of the road. We know we're better and that's why my focus is still the same as it was when we started. I have plenty of confidence in myself and the team to work through the problems when they come up."

-David Ferron

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Andy Houston