NASCAR Craftsman Truck After a 59-race hiatus from NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series competition, Rich Bickle returned last weekend to the series where he captured three wins and a runner-up points finish in 1997. Bickle capped off a successful ...
NASCAR Craftsman Truck
After a 59-race hiatus from NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series competition, Rich Bickle returned last weekend to the series where he captured three wins and a runner-up points finish in 1997. Bickle capped off a successful weekend for Country-Ballew Motorsports in Memphis, as he qualified the No. 15 Ford in the 10th position and finished the race in sixth place, the team's best finish in seven races this season. Since leaving the truck series as a full-time competitor following the 1997 season, Bickle had competed in both Winston Cup and Busch Series divisions, but prior to last week's race, he had not driven in NASCAR competition since last September at Dover. Now, the Edgerton, Wis., native returns home this weekend to compete at The Milwaukee Mile in this weekend's GNC Live Well 200.
RICH BICKLE-15-Dickies Ford F-150
HOW MUCH OF A CONFIDENCE BUILDER WAS LAST WEEKEND'S SIXTH-PLACE RUN, NOT ONLY FOR YOU, BUT FOR THE NO. 15 TEAM AS WELL?
Just to be able to get a shot to drive something competitive again feels really good. To have a decent start like we had last weekend, the biggest thing is to hopefully get that team turned around a little bit and heading in the right direction. I think we did that. Of course, it's a big momentum boost to get a good run in on, basically, the same type of race track as Milwaukee. To be able to go up there this weekend, and being home for me, it would be great weekend if we could hit a lick up there."
THE TRUCK THAT YOU RACED AT MEMPHIS WAS ONE THAT YOU HAD PREVIOUSLY RACED AND THEN SOLD TO BILLY BALLEW WHEN YOU CEASED THE OPERATIONS OF YOUR OWN TEAM. DO YOU PLAN ON RACING THE SAME TRUCK THIS WEEKEND IN MILWAUKEE?
"We got the sides tore up a little bit and stuff like that, but the guys worked their tails off yesterday to get the thing turned around and got the motor out of it and put another one back down in it and got it all cleaned up. They got the few little wrinkles pushed put of it, and it should be ready to go."
HOW MUCH OF A TURNAROUND DO YOU AND THE OWNERS EXPECT IN THE WEEKS AHEAD?
I think they saw somewhat what they're capable of. Last weekend was a big turnaround for them because they haven't run worth a darn all year, and especially after what happened all last week. They got the shop broken in to and a lot of their race stuff got stolen. It was a pretty trying week for everybody. To get the truck ready to go to Memphis and switch seats and then all of that stuff happened, that was pretty trying. It's not like they have a whole lot to work with anyway. It's pretty much a low-dollar operation. To go up there and show you can be competitive with the really good teams, it was an eye-opener. A lot of the race there when I was by myself, we were a couple tenths faster than the leader pretty much all the time. There is just some stuff we need to work on. We were a little bit short on lower end power and they think they found the problem with some tailpipes and some exhaust system stuff this week. The pit stop stuff, we're going to have to work on because it's hard to have four or five guys in your shop and work all week on the trucks and get them turned around, plus do pit stop practice and get that ready. Maybe we can get some more money to go along with the Dickies sponsorship, and hopefully we can hire a few more guys and get that part fixed up."
HOW ACTIVE HAD YOU BEEN IN TRYING TO SECURE A RIDE FOR THIS SEASON? "Actually, I haven't done anything. I've been building street rods in our old shop, and I've got a few sponsorship deals that I'm working on. Besides that, I haven't been going to the track because I'm not much of a spectator. Basically, there aren't any deals out there right now. In the last two years, between the three series, I'd say 30 teams have closed their doors and I told myself that I'm not going to drive some junk heap again. I just told myself that I wasn't going to do it, so I really haven't been out there trying to beat the bushes. I'm not an ambulance chaser and I can't stand sitting around the race track and saying, 'I'm here in case you don't think your driver is any good.' I've been on that side of the fence and it's ridiculous, and it's always the drivers that get the fingers pointed at them. I'd rather get involved with someone that wants to go racing and have a real race team than someone who wants to act like God's gift to racing and work on the race team and think that's all there is to it."
YOU ARE NOT THE FIRST WINSTON CUP DRIVER TO MAKE HIS RETURN TO THE TRUCK SERIES THIS SEASON AS A REGULAR COMPETITOR. DO YOU SEE THIS AS A STEP BACKWARDS IN YOUR CAREER OR AS CHANCE TO RE-ESTABLISH YOURSELF?
I don't look at as either one. The way I look at is, I just said, 'I don't care where I race. If I'm not going to race something competitive, I'm not going to race.' I've been at it for 27 years, and I've won every short track race in the country. I've proved myself time and time again, and for some reason, I don't know if the stars weren't lined up right or what, but I didn't have the right situation fall in my lap. I just wasn't going to do it. I said it last week, 'I was tired of taking 25th-place stuff and trying to run 10th with it and then getting called a no-driving S.O.B.' I'm just tired of it. Between that and the politics, it just got old and I decided to take a step back. I started to work out, got back in the best shape off my life and got my mind straightened out and was ready to come back into something decent. I knew that this truck was a decent deal. I knew the motor program was there with Ernie Elliott and they had some good people at the shop. I knew that we would come in there and be competitive, and I was happy with the way that we ran. I figured if we came up there and just had a good weekend, we'd be all right. Actually, in my mind I wanted to finish in the top five, and we missed that by one spot, so that's not too bad."
AFTER SUCH A SUCCESSFUL RACE LAST WEEKEND, WHAT ARE THE TEAM'S EXPECTATIONS THIS WEEK IN MILWAUKEE?
It all depends. I think we're going to go there and unload and be really good off the trailer. We're not going to change the setup from last week hardly at all. Red Dog (Buddy Barnes) and Billy Rhine (crew chief), they've got the whole thing set up and ready to run, and like I said, it felt good to drive something that drove. I drove 20-some races last year in the Busch Series and I don't think there were but two or three races that I had a car that you could feel the front tires on. So, this thing felt pretty good because when I drove it in the corner I was like, 'Hey, this is different.' I had more fun last week than I've had in a long time."
YOU HADN'T COMPETED IN A TRUCK SERIES EVENT SINCE 1999. HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH A SETUP FOR MEMPHIS?
Red Dog has a lot of friends and he called in some favors on some shock stuff and he knew some people that tested up there in Busch cars, and, plus, that truck drove great. I only drove it four times when I owned it. It was always a good-handling truck, and I just had a feeling that if we went up there that we'd be pretty decent, and low and behold, we were. We missed a little bit on gear selection in qualifying and half-of-a-tenth would have brought us up from 10th place in qualifying to fifth. We were close and that's all you can ask for. The improvement, I think they've seen - the sponsors and the owners - what can take place. I know Billy (Ballew) real well but I don't know Preston (Countryman), but he has to be happy with the way this thing has turned around."
HAS THE AERO-PUSH FACTOR BECOME MORE PREVALENT IN THE HANDLING CHARACTERISTICS OF THE TRUCKS SINCE YOU LAST DROVE ONE IN 1999?
It's always been there. It's just one of those things. I don't think the trucks have quite the tendency to have the aero-push as the cars do. I didn't think it was all that bad. You could feel it a little bit, but you have to deal with it. You just have to get your truck to turn a tick better than the guy in front of you, but it helps if you have enough motor to get up underneath them. Last weekend, I knew I couldn't do a whole lot of rooting and gauging because I knew we were trying to take this truck to Milwaukee and I really want to have a good show up there. This weekend, if push comes to shove, I think my horn has been growing for quite a while, so I think the front bumper might be used a tick more than I did last week."