BUSCH: Bickle Gateway preview

MADISON, IL (July 24, 2000) - Earlier this season, Rich Bickle finished fifth in a NASCAR Busch Series race at South Boston, VA. Not only did the effort mark a solid day for the veteran NASCAR pilot, but it also proved to be a milestone...

MADISON, IL (July 24, 2000) - Earlier this season, Rich Bickle finished fifth in a NASCAR Busch Series race at South Boston, VA. Not only did the effort mark a solid day for the veteran NASCAR pilot, but it also proved to be a milestone as South Boston was the 150th different track Bickle has raced on in his 24-year driving career. "I never thought I would race at that many different tracks in my career," said Bickle. "A lot of guys never race at more than three or four tracks in their entire career. To race at as many tracks as I have and see as much of the United States and Canada as I have has been a real thrill. I still haven't raced overseas yet, but that still might be down the road." Before Bickle runs on foreign soil, he'll take to another foreign track - Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis, MO - where he will drive the #91 Popeyes Chicken and Biscuits Pontiac in the Carquest Auto Parts 250 on Saturday, July 29. After a solid test at the track earlier this month, Bickle is confident track No. 151 on his career resume could produce his best NBS finish yet. "The test went very well for us," said Bickle, whose best Busch Series career efforts are a trio of fifth-place finishes. "I was a little surprised at how long the straightaways are at Gateway. It's definitely a motor track. Turns 1-2 are semi-banked and are pretty tight corners. You have to get through those corners good or you're going to have trouble getting a good run down the long back straight. "Turns 3-4 are more flat and rounded than Turns 1-2 are," Bickle continues. "Before we went to Gateway to test, I was told you have to give up something at one or the other of the racetrack. We were pretty neutral at both ends of the racetrack and that surprised me a little." Bickle racked up most of his impressive list of tracks raced at early in his career. The 39-year-old Edgerton, WI proved to be one of the most dominating late model stock car drivers ever scoring hundreds of wins against legendary short-track drivers such as Dick Trickle, Joe Shear, Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace and Alan Kulwicki during the 1980s. Not satisfied with his regional Midwestern accomplishments, Bickle hit the 'Outlaw' late model circuit winning big money events all the way from Calgary, Alberta to Pensacola, FL. Last year, Bickle won the prestigious Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola for a record fifth time. No other driver has won that event more than twice. Given his wide range of racing experience, there are few things that throw Bickle for a loop. "Anytime you race someplace new, the first thing you try to do is compare it to someplace you've previously raced," said Bickle, who also owns 81 career NASCAR Winston Cup starts. "You always try relate to a place you've been before. There are very few tracks I've been to that I can't relate to. Gateway, for instance, immediately reminded me of Darlington (SC) Raceway, only a little flatter. It was tough to get around there the first couple of laps, but then we seemed to get it figured out. Toward the end of the practice, we got to running pretty good. We ran some times in race trim that were really, really good. I think Gateway will fit my style of driving pretty well. After some early-season problems with his new Bickle/Smith Motorsports team, Bickle has hit his stride scoring a pair of Top-5 finishes in his last three events. Another top run would suit Bickle just fine and would also repay some extra kindness shown him and the team by the Popeyes folks. "We really struggled with this new Bickle/Smith program early in the year and, unfortunately, we didn't make the races at Atlanta and Texas," said Bickle, who finished 11th in the Pennsylvania 500 NASCAR Winston Cup race this past weekend in a relief role for Terry Labonte. "Those were the first two races on the schedule that featured our Popeyes Chicken and Biscuits sponsorship. I know everyone was disappointed. Heck, no one was more disappointed than I was. Since then, we've brought in Fred Wanke as our crew chief, we got some things figured out in our motor program and we finally figured out the bodies on these Pontiacs. That's translated into a pair of Top-5 finishes at Myrtle Beach and South Boston. If we don't have a tire problem while running eighth at Milwaukee, we're in the Top-5 again. "All of those races were with our Aqua Velva sponsorship on the car. Meanwhile, the Popeyes folks stuck with us and have been very patient and supportive. We reconfigured our schedule and we'll do six races for them the rest of this season beginning at Gateway. Given St. Louis is a very strong market for Popeyes Chicken and Biscuits restaurants, we'd like nothing better than to have a great race for them as a reward for all their hard work and support. They earned it and so has this Bickle/Smith Motorsports team." Bickle will take the green flag in the Carquest Auto Parts 250 at Gateway International Raceway at 9 p.m. Eastern Time Saturday, July 29. The event will be telecast live on The Nashville Network and will be broadcast worldwide as it happens by MRN radio.

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Drivers Rich Bickle , Terry Labonte , Dick Trickle , Rusty Wallace , Mark Martin , Alan Kulwicki