Bristol a Matter of Survival for Cope

COPE: BRISTOL MATTER OF SURVIVAL (April 5, 1999) -- Jimmy Dean Pontiac driver Derrike Cope prefers the finesse it takes to get around the superspeedways on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit, but this Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor ...

COPE: BRISTOL MATTER OF SURVIVAL

(April 5, 1999) -- Jimmy Dean Pontiac driver Derrike Cope prefers the finesse it takes to get around the superspeedways on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit, but this Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway will likely come down to a shoving match and Cope says he can jostle with the sport's best.

"Bristol is a grab-and-growl type race," Cope said. "You know when you've been hit, let's just put it that way. Everybody comes out bruised at Bristol. Most fights that are good battles, everybody comes out with a knot on them somewhere. At Bristol, you definitely come out with an antler or two. Whether you get a knot or an antler, that's just the way it is."

But Cope says it's the smart fighter that makes it through the treacherous 500-lap race on the unforgiving .533-mile layout.

"You've got to be able to put a bumper to somebody and be smart about that, get them out of your way if they're being obstinate," Cope said. "Yet, if somebody's all over you and you're not as fast as them, you've got to find a way to let them get by on the outside so you don't get hung out, and still be fast enough to pull away from certain people. You try to keep yourself away from getting in a tussle. If you can do that, run productively enough to do that, and then give up to the guys that are faster than you, you'll end up having a good day. It's one of those deals where you have to be really smart."

Cope says the tension while driving at Bristol can become unbearable. The caution flag is a routine site at Bristol, and the more impatient and rough drivers become, the more cars are sent careening into the walls. The race boils down to a matter of sheer survival.

"It's a situation where you're in traffic all the time, constantly on top of the wheel and you really have to battle really hard," Cope said. "Things happen quickly at Bristol. If something happens in front of you, you're very fortunate, very lucky to get through it. You really have to stay on top of things. You have to be looking far ahead and your foot's always right on the edge of the brake. You're always waiting for something to happen. You anticipate something happening because in order to get by people at Bristol you really have to put a bumper to people. Typically, someone is putting it to you at the same time. It's really a lot of rooting and grinding going on. No one has a lot of regard for you."

Bristol is nicknamed "Thunder Valley" with good reason. Its location in the middle of the mountains and towering grandstands combine to trap the noise of the combatants' shrieking engines.

"The noise is deafening at Bristol," Cope said. "Your ears ring all the next day. You cannot hear great after that race, especially that night. You catch yourself yelling on the radio during the race. You can't hear yourself think. You can't hear your crew hardly and you're going, 'What? I didn't hear that.' It gets ugly. That's just an issue you have to deal with."

Owner Chuck Rider's Bahari' Racing team had a productive effort in the March 28 Primestar 500 at Texas. Cope finished 22nd, but earned some needed points to strengthen his position in the point standings.

"We accomplished some of thing we wanted to get done at Texas. We needed a 100-point day and bring the car home in one piece. We got 97 points and there wasn't a scratch on the Jimmy Dean Pontiac. We finished and the pit crew had their best pit road performance on the season. We'll be looking for the same kind of effort at Bristol."

Jimmy Dean is one of four Sara Lee companies rotating as sponsors on Rider's Pontiac this season. The others are Bryan, State Fair and Rudy's Farm.

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Derrike Cope