Atlanta Crash Memories Don't Erase Cope's Confidence

CRASH MEMORIES DON'T ERASE COPE'S CONFIDENCE (March 9, 1999) -- Bryan Pontiac driver Derrike Cope is brimming with confidence despite the fact he heads back to the site of a devastating crash that was the defining moment of last year's difficult...

CRASH MEMORIES DON'T ERASE COPE'S CONFIDENCE

(March 9, 1999) -- Bryan Pontiac driver Derrike Cope is brimming with confidence despite the fact he heads back to the site of a devastating crash that was the defining moment of last year's difficult NASCAR Winston Cup season.

Cope led four laps under green before a right-rear tire blowout sent him smashing into the outer wall at Atlanta Motor Speedway in last March's race there. The hard hit broke two of Cope's ribs. He spent the night in a hospital as doctors kept him under observation.

Now Cope is set to return to Atlanta for Sunday's Cracker Barrell 500.

"A lot of people probably think I'm not looking forward to Atlanta, but it's the exact opposite," Cope said. "It's one of my favorite tracks. I finished fifth in the season-ending race there two years ago. I think we can meet with that type of success there this time in the Bryan Pontiac."

Cope says last year's crash was the hardest hit he's taken in more than a decade of action on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit.

"I've looked at the crash on replays and it looked pretty bad and the race car afterwards was really bad," Cope said. "It hurt me pretty bad. I'd never been hurt like that before. I've never really broken anything before. It had to have been a pretty vicious hit. It broke me up inside pretty well. I tend to be pretty strong when it comes to taking licks and things. I'd never really broken anything or bruised up anything before. That thing cleaned my clock."

Cope was briefly knocked unconscious after the crash.

"I remember seeing Burton and thinking, 'I'm catching Ward,'" Cope said. "I'd already gone by Bill Elliott, Ken Schrader and Dale Earnhardt and was leaving them and gaining on Ward. I was thinking we were right back to where we were and we were going to be OK. But then I went into the corner and the right- rear tire gave way and -- boom-- I was in the wall. The last thing I remember was waking up on the gurney going into the hospital and wind being blown up my skirt."

Much of the talk entering Sunday's Cracker Barrell 500 at Atlanta is centered around NASCAR's new rule configurations regarding front air dam and rear spoiler heights. The changes are designed to give drivers greater cornering control at high speeds. The rules debuted in last year's November Atlanta race. They've been used at North Carolina Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway this year.

The new rules have Cope's endorsement.

"The new rules make for a better balance in the race car," Cope said. "It's definitely better. It gives the car more grip and a sense of more grip and you can do more things. You can manipulate the car more and there's a feel of a bit more security in traffic. That's what we were looking for. We want control of the car so we can make the necessary maneuvers."

Bryan is one of four Sara Lee brands rotating as primary sponsors on owner Chuck Rider's Pontiac this season. The others are Jimmy Dean, State Fair and Rudy's Farm. Bryan will enjoy added exposure this week through the use of an in-car camera.

"Atlanta is a good place for us and another opportunity for us to make Bryan feel good about being a sponsor on the car," Cope said. "I think we can be in a position to be among the front-runners in that race. I'm going there with that every intention."

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Derrike Cope , Bill Elliott , Ken Schrader