Rich Bickle ran out of luck at Las Vegas

MOORESVILLE, NC (April 3, 2000) - Heading into the second round of practice, Rich Bickle and the rest of the ...

MOORESVILLE, NC (April 3, 2000) - Heading into the second round of practice, Rich Bickle and the rest of the #91 Popeyes Chicken NASCAR Busch Series team felt good about their chances of making the starting lineup for the Albertson's 300 at Texas Motor Speedway. The initial round of practice showed the Popeyes Pontiac to be very competitive, in the low teens on the practice sheet all morning before a round of "sticker" tire runs by other cars placed the Bickle/Smith Motorsports team 26th at the end of the first session. "We had done everything right to that point," said Bickle. "We did everything right at the shop as far as preparation and testing and once on the track during that first practice, we had improved the car with every change we made. Everyone was looking forward to qualifying the Popeyes Pontiac in the Top-25 in first round and then really giving the fans a show on Saturday." Bickle did wind up giving the fans a show, but it wasn't on Saturday. On the first lap of Thursday's second round of practice, Bickle cut down a rear tire exiting Turn 2 on the 1.5-mile Texas track sending the car into a series of spins down the back straight. Bickle appeared to have his bright yellow Popeyes mount saved when another tire blew out during the skid sending the car into the inside retaining wall. "There wasn't much I could do," said Bickle, surveying the terminal front and rear damage on the primary car. "I don't know what happened for sure. We may have run over something in the garage area or down on the flat as we came up to speed. There's no warning in that kind of deal, the car just comes around so quick. At first I thought I had it saved, but when the tires flat-spotted and blew from the skid, it just jerked the car into the wall. Man, I can't believe this happened." The incident, just 90 minutes before the start of qualifying, put the pressure on the Popeyes team to ready the back up racer for time trials. While Bickle was eventually able to make a qualifying run, he was unable to crack the Top-25 locked in on Day One. "Just to get the back-up car out there in the time we did really says something for this group of guys," said Bickle. "Everyone really pulled together and we were able to get the car out in time to qualify. It's almost impossible to qualify a piece you haven't practiced and it's a little scary pounding a car into a corner at 190 miles per hour and having no earthly idea whether it is going to turn or not." Bickle's only hope to get in the race would come in second-round qualifying. Unfortunately, different weather conditions the next day and the lack of sufficient preparation time that morning sunk Bickle's chances of making the race. "Once we wrecked the primary car, we were a long shot to make the race, that's for sure," stated Bickle. "I'd be the first one to say I'm a little frustrated missing out on qualifying for some of these Busch races, but it's hard to stay that way given how good we were here. For this first time this season, I really feel like we had the right combination of driver, car and crew at a race and the results showed it. We had the race made and a good car for Saturday. We just had terrible luck when we cut that tire." Bickle could see some additional silver lining in the events of the weekend as well. "You'd like to take something positive out of this and I think we have," Bickle stated. "Our on-track performance showed we've made big strides in qualifying for and racing in these Busch Series events. Off the track, the team came together and really battled adversity head on. We also did all the right promotional things earlier in the week, so we feel like we didn't let the Popeyes folks down too badly. They have been just great, very understanding, about our early problems. We couldn't ask for a better sponsor, especially in a new deal. All the marketing things like in-restaurant promotion, appearances, show car and souvenir programs are either going great or about to. The same thing is true for the race team. We just need a little better racing luck the next time out." Bickle's next scheduled NBS ride will come at Charlotte, NC and the Carquest Auto Parts 300 at Lowes Motor Speedway, May 25-27. Bickle, who won the pole position and finished eighth for this same event in 1995 when it was titled the Red Dog 300, is looking forward to the challenge. "I'm ready to go now," said Bickle. "We're going to test at Charlotte on our own and then we'll take what we learned, make some adjustments, and try those things at the NBS open test there two weeks before the race. I'm not sure I want to wait that long to try to race again. Don't be surprised if we show up at a race before that. This Bickle/Smith Motorsports team is going to make some big noise before the end of this season, I can guarantee that."

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Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Rich Bickle