BUSCH: Atlanta Rich Bickle Looks to Drive Past Low Spots

MOORESVILLE, NC (March 7, 2000) - Not making the field for the NASCAR Busch Series event at Las Vegas didn't faze Rich Bickle as much as it might have if it weren't for the events of the last couple of weeks. "I'm plenty disappointed we ...

MOORESVILLE, NC (March 7, 2000) - Not making the field for the NASCAR Busch Series event at Las Vegas didn't faze Rich Bickle as much as it might have if it weren't for the events of the last couple of weeks. "I'm plenty disappointed we didn't make the show at Vegas," said Bickle, who debuted his Bickle/Smith Motorsports effort only to come up short in qualifying. "I've got my neck stuck out a mile trying to run my own program. I also know how tough this deal is. Not making a race is the toughest thing about this business, but it's nothing compared what we went through recently." The Bickle family has had its share of sadness of late as the stepfather of Jackie "Ma" Bickle passed away two weeks ago. Then, as the team prepared to qualify last Thursday at Vegas, word came from Raleigh, NC that Dennis Tessman had also died. Tessman, like the Bickle's, was a Wisconsin native and long-time NASCAR racer. He had been in a hospital awaiting a heart transplant at the time of his death. Known as "Gambler" around the garage area, Tessman had driven race haulers for many NASCAR teams, including Bickle's, over the years. "First we got the word that Grandpa Bob had passed and now this with Dennis," said Bickle. "Both were really great guys and a big part of our family. We've always been a family race team and this stuff knocked us back a bit. Everyone stepped up at Vegas and we everything we could. We just didn't make the race. It happens. Considering what we've been through lately, not getting in didn't shake us up too badly." Instead of heading back to North Carolina early, Bickle and key members of his team stayed in Las Vegas through the weekend to take care of the business side of racing. "Just because the car isn't on the track doesn't mean we're not competing to win," said Bickle. "We had key executives from both of our sponsors, Aqua Velva and Popeyes Chicken, on hand for the weekend. It's been so crazy trying to pull this first-year effort together that this was the first time we were all able to sit down together. A lot of great ideas were exchanged and nobody seemed too upset about not making the race. NASCAR is about winning both on and off the track and I think everyone felt like we won off the track this weekend. Now all we have to do is start performing on the race track." Bickle won't have to wait long to get a second chance as he'll debut his bright yellow #91 Popeyes Chicken Pontiac paint scheme this weekend in the Aaron's 312 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The event is the first of six NBS races Bickle will do for Popeyes, an Atlanta-based chicken concept that features more than 1,400 restaurants worldwide. "We have a full week of activities planned to kick off the Popeyes deal in Atlanta," said Bickle. "We'll do a car unveiling at Popeyes corporate headquarters and we'll also be visiting a number of Popeyes restaurants for autograph appearances. There's also a "Party in the Pits with Popeyes" contest for a couple of lucky fans and Popeyes is going to have a hospitality for more than 100 guests on Saturday. "On the track, we're going to face the same pressures we did at Vegas. There will be 55-60 cars trying to make the show and we don't have any points or provisionals from last year. That means we're going to have to fall of the truck fast and make it on time. Joe Nemechek runs Carl Wegner engines like we do and he told Carl they have to work a lot harder to make Busch races than they do the Winston Cup stuff. I agree. I'm confident about Atlanta. It's a big, fast place. You don't lift much, especially in qualifying." When it comes to considering the possibility of not making the race at Atlanta, Bickle isn't concerned. "As a driver, you never think you're not going make the race," stated the 38-year-old Edgerton, WI native. "It would be tough if it happened again, but it wouldn't be the end of the world. The last couple of weeks have proven that to us. I'm thinking our bad luck is over. One of our team members, Todd Schuler, got married in Las Vegas Saturday night. I'm hoping that's a positive first step to getting us picked back up and on the right track again."

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Drivers Rich Bickle , Joe Nemechek