BUSCH: Rich Bickle discovers why Darlington is "too tough to tame"

DARLINGTON, SC (March 21, 2000) - "For 50 years, Darlington has been called the 'Track Too Tough To Tame'. I think we found out why this weekend." Rich Bickle and a lot of other NASCAR Busch Series drivers came to that conclusion after ...

DARLINGTON, SC (March 21, 2000) - "For 50 years, Darlington has been called the 'Track Too Tough To Tame'. I think we found out why this weekend." Rich Bickle and a lot of other NASCAR Busch Series drivers came to that conclusion after surviving the famed 1.366-mile Darlington oval in the SunCom 200 Saturday. For Bickle, a NASCAR Winston Cup veteran making just his second career NBS start at Darlington, a 29th-place finish was a victory at the end of the day. "Man, this is a tough old place," said Bickle after his first 2000 NBS season effort in the Aqua Velva Pontiac. "We worked our tails off all weekend to try to find the handle on this track and in the end, it still got the best of us. I know a lot of people are going to look at the final results and be disappointed that we finished 29th. Here, it's a real victory just to finish and put a full car back on the trailer." Bickle and the rest of the Aqua Velva crew battled just to get in the race. A faulty fuel line limited the team's on-track action in the first practice session putting them behind in the chase to earn a spot in the race through qualifying. "We got on the track and the car just wouldn't run," stated Bickle. "We finally found the problem, but we only got four or five laps in the in the first hour and a half of practice. The guys really dug in during the second practice session and got us in position to make the field." The hard work paid off as Bickle gridded his blue #91 Grand Prix 33rd in the 43-car starting field with a qualifying lap of 164.051 miles per hour. At the drop of the green flag, the 38-year-old Edgerton, WI driver did his best to stay out of trouble throughout the early laps. "You have to race the racetrack at Darlington, not the other competitors," said Bickle. "That's especially true early in the race. The track is so narrow and if something happens, there's really no place to go to avoid the wreck. Early on, we weren't handling as well as we wanted to and I just wanted to stay out of trouble so we could be there at the finish." The plan was also to short pit and stay on fresh tires as much as possible. The course, rough Darlington surface is known as a 'tire eater' and by laying back and conserving his tires, Bickle and crew chief Mark Tudor hoped to catch the competition by surprise. "We kind of had an ace in the hole," said Bickle. "Because we didn't get much practice on Friday, we had an extra set of sticker (new) tires that the rest of the teams didn't have. The plan was to get on a different pit cycle than the rest of the field and be near the front at the end. It almost worked." A pit cycle at Lap 80 put Bickle in the sixth position. With only one more pit stop to make in the 147-lap event, Bickle seemed poised to rally to a Top-15 finish as nearly all of the front runners still had to make two stops over the final distance. "We nearly made it, but we got a lap down and then the caution came out," said Bickle. "Tires are like gold at Darlington. When you have new ones, you're in the money. When you don't, you're out to lunch. The leaders were able to get back around to us and once we got a lap down, we couldn't make it back." Bickle still raced near the head of the pack to the finish, using several late cautions to try to get his lap back. Each time, however, the lead trio of eventual winner Mark Martin, Jeff Burton and Matt Kenseth were able to drive away. "Those guys were in a different time zone compared to the rest of us," said Bickle. "We were pretty equal to the rest of the field at the end of the race, but we weren't anywhere near as fast as those top three were. We tried, but we just couldn't get our lap back on the restarts." Bickle earned $8,075 and a ton of confidence with for the 29th-place effort. "I'm not disappointed at all," said Bickle. "The goal was to make the race and then let the chips fall where they may. Considering how hard we had to work to get in, that was a big boost for our young team. I would have liked to finish higher in the race, but Darlington got the best of a lot a guys today and they're loading up wrecked cars. Our Aqua Velva Pontiac is in one piece and looks as good as when we unloaded it. That's a victory in itself right there. "You have to remember, we're starting from ground zero here," Bickle continued. "We're a brand new team and what we learned this weekend will go a long way in making us better in our next race in two weeks at Texas. We're going to test there this week and I'm confident we'll run well. We're just taking things one step at a time right now and Darlington was a big step in the right direction for us."

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Drivers Rich Bickle , Jeff Burton , Matt Kenseth , Mark Martin