Two top-10 finishes in nine NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (NCTS) races between May 22 and July 24th were only part of Rick Crawford's and the Circle Bar Motel & RV Park Ford team's struggles during the middle part of the 1999 season. To make ...
Two top-10 finishes in nine NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (NCTS) races between May 22 and July 24th were only part of Rick Crawford's and the Circle Bar Motel & RV Park Ford team's struggles during the middle part of the 1999 season. To make matters worse, crew chief George Church resigned from the team on July 19th.
We all know the saying -- sometimes you have to hit the bottom before you can turn around and rise back to the top.
Well if the last three NCTS races are any indication, the Circle Bar race team is back on track after three strong finishes, including two top 10s. And as the NCTS heads to the final road course of the season, at Heartland Park Topeka, Kansas this weekend, Crawford knows who deserves most of the credit for the team's quick turnaround -- new crew chief, Mike Cheek.
RICK CRAWFORD - 14 - Circle Bar Motel & RV Park Ford F-150:
WHAT IMPACT HAS MIKE CHEEK MADE ON THE TEAM? "The electricity that was missing is now back with the team. We're much better off now than we have been over the last four or five months. Our deal when Mike came on board was to get the team in finishing form again and get us to finish races toward the front. Well Mike doesn't act like you need to crawl before you can walk. He was surprised when he walked into our shop and saw all the equipment and talented personnel that we have at our disposal. He also saw firsthand what a serious outlook on racing we have and all the support we've gotten from Tom Mitchell (team owner). Mike realized that this team needed to be where we are today - meaning one of the top teams in the series. To Mike, it wasn't like we should go for a top-20 finish right off the bat. >From day one, he was ready to go sit on the pole and win a race and we still are. I like Mike's work ethic. When you're hanging around the garage area, I try to be observant of other teams and other team members that are around you. I saw his work ethic in action and how he controlled his team and how much his boys respected him. Mike and his drivers have been best friends and I think you need that strong bond to have a successful team. We had a difficult day at St. Louis looking for the handle on the truck. That just makes for a bad day. With Mike's help, we did find it and were able to make up some spots late in the last 20 or so laps of the race. That's been the biggest difference is that Mike can find what this driver needs and is looking for to go fast and finish strong."
IS MOVING UP INTO THE TOP TEN IN POINTS STILL WITHIN REACH FOR THE TEAM? "That's a realistic goal for us. We'd love to finish in the top 10 in points when the 1999 season is over. We'd be disappointed if we don't make it. While we were having our problems, everyone else was capitalizing on that and moving up. At this time of the year, points are so hard to make up unless your competitors are having problems. I'm not going to wish problems on anyone, I just wish that we could beat 'em. We want all top-10 finishes between now and the end of the season. That would catapult us into a pretty good year 2000. We were 12th in our first year in the series and came back in 1998 and finished a disappointing 18th. Now we're 14th in the points and Robert Yates has gone a few steps further to make sure we've got plenty of power under the hood. And now Mike (Cheek) is suiting the driver as far as the chassis is concerned."
WILL MIKE CHEEK BE BACK WITH THE TEAM FOR THE 2000 SEASON? "He's left us with the option to bring him back or not. Mike has signed for the rest of the 1999. Right now we'd love to keep him for next year. When we called him after George Church left, we made it clear that we didn't want him on a week-to-week basis. I knew that he was the man I wanted for the job. I want him to stay with us because we can accomplish great things together. Mike's deal opened up about the same time that George (Church) left us. When I made my first call to see if Mike wanted the job, his response was - why haven't you called sooner! Mike was my first choice to offer the job to at the end of the 1998 season but he had already had a commitment and wanted to fulfill that deal. He wasn't able to come to us then."
TAKE US AROUND A LAP OF HEARTLAND PARK TOPEKA. WHAT CHALLENGES DOES IT PRESENT? "Coming up to the start/finish line, you've got a long dragstrip to deal with right off the bat and then part of a shutdown area. You're going about 170-180 mph and then downshifting into third gear through the sweeping, very fast, left-hander in turn 1. Then you're back on the gas for just an instant and downshifting one into second gear and making a pretty hard right-hand turn in turn 2. Topeka is more or less a flat roadcourse with no elevation changes. It does have some ups and downs but there not hills. Going into turn 3 from second to first gear, you have a hard left-hand turn. Then you go back into second gear through turn 4, back into third gear for the straightaway to what they call the "gator pit" into turn 5, which is a 90 degree, hard-braking lefthander and you'll be back down into second gear. Stay in second through the sweeping right-hander and back up to third for the left hander through the short straight through the "tunnel straightaway". Then you've got a 90-degree left-hander that is pretty fast. You'll downshift back into second and run second all the way through the three turns on the back, then it's back into first gear for the hard 140-150-degree left back onto the dragstrip. That's where it can get really tricky because you're crossing over two lanes of different kinds of rubber and a curve. The dragstrip is probably the best spot to pass so you've got to come off that last turn just right and make you're shifts well going across the other rubber that has been laid on the asphalt. The whole racetrack is very challenging and for me I like Topeka because it's a driver's track rather than a follower's track. If you have a good handling truck, there are many corners where you can pass somebody. You can outbreak them on a short corner. You can out accelerate them on some corners like turn six, the sweeping right-hander. Topeka was actually the first roadcourse that I've run on and I've been there four times overall with the trucks and in All-Pro. It's very challenging for me because I know that some of the normal characteristics of your typical roadcourse, things like elevation changes, are taken out and that helps to make us non-roadcourse specialists more competitive."