SAN FRANCISCO (Dec. 6, 1999) For Mike Bliss, much of the 1999 season was spent in the shadow of his teammate, but by the end of the year the spotlight shone brightly in his corner as well.
Bliss, driver of Jack Roush's No. 99 Exide Batteries Ford, has been one of the most consistent drivers in the series for the duration of its five-year existence -- winning a race in all five of the circuit's seasons.
However, in 1999, rising star Greg Biffle -- Bliss' teammate in the veteran's first year at Roush Racing -- who won series-record nine races -- had a season for the ages while Bliss struggled with inconsistency.
Bliss started the year with a 28th-place finish in the season opening Florida Dodge Dealers 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, one of eight races in which he finished outside the top-15. However, he quickly turned his fortunes around with back-to-back top-10s at Phoenix and Evergreen, lifting him from the depths of the points chart. Bliss would go on to post six top-5s and 13 top-10s throughout the season, including two runner-up finishes -- both to Biffle.
Then, after five up-and-down months of fruitless competition, the No. 99 team finally put it all together in the O'Reilly Auto Parts 275 at Heartland Park Topeka. Bliss fended off hard-charging Boris Said to take the checkers and unload a season's-worth of frustration at the unlikely venue of the Kansas road course.
"We had a better truck, better pit strategy and better Goodyear tires than Boris," Bliss said after that race. "Boris was driving the wheels off the thing. He's a great driver, but I felt like I could get him. I wanted to win this thing bad.
"This track owed me. Last year we had it and we blowed up. He just banzai'd in there and pushed (Jay Sauter) up and there was an opening in there for a Mack truck to go through and we just scooted through."
After that win, Bliss played out his cards in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, but his only top-10 finish was a fifth in the season finale NAPA Auto Parts 200 at California Speedway. The inconsistency of the final five races was a microcosm of his season.
But while Bliss was finishing his series career, he was planning on scooting right into the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. On Oct. 1, Bliss qualified Eel River Racing's No. 30 Jimmy Dean Pontiac 19th for the NAPA AutoCare 500 at Martinsville Speedway, and ended up finishing the race 32nd.
That weekend proved to be a foresight into what was to come for the driver, who has always shown interest in competing in NASCAR's premiere series. On Nov. 29, A.J. Foyt named Bliss the driver of choice for his newly formed Conseco-sponsored race team.
"A.J. knows that when I get in a race car, I want to win," Bliss said. "I am very excited about working with A.J. He's a true racer and a legend. A.J.'s someone that we've all looked up to, and he's focused on building a winning team."
So, now Bliss has emerged from the shadows onto the grandest stage in all of racing. The spotlight is on.