BUSCH: Rich Bickle rallies at South Boston

SOUTH BOSTON, VA (June 9, 2000) - After failing to qualify for five of six NASCAR Busch Series events he entered this season, Rich Bickle knew he and his Bickle-Smith Motorsports team needed to do something different. "You get to the...

SOUTH BOSTON, VA (June 9, 2000) - After failing to qualify for five of six NASCAR Busch Series events he entered this season, Rich Bickle knew he and his Bickle-Smith Motorsports team needed to do something different. "You get to the point where you don't know what you should do," said Bickle, who finally broke the slump by driving his #91 Aqua Velva Pontiac to a fifth-place finish in the Textilease Medique 300 at South Boston Speedway. "You're doing things the way you've always done them, things that brought you success. All of a sudden, it's not working and everyone is wondering what the heck is wrong with Rich Bickle? My partner, Ed Smith, and I decided we needed a fresh look at things so we brought in my old crew chief Fred Wanke and as usual, Fred delivered." Wanke, a veteran NASCAR crew chief, teamed with Bickle to win three 1997 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series races producing a second place in the points that year. The Bickle-Smith team was not even scheduled to race at South Boston, but a mid-week test at Greenville-Pickens (SC) Speedway with Wanke convinced Bickle he needed to tackle the tight .400-mile Virginia oval. "It wasn't that we found a lot wrong at Greenville-Pickens," said Bickle, who drove the same car at South Boston that failed to make the show a week earlier at Dover, DE. "We have solid equipment. All Fred did we give us a little different perspective. He's pretty methodical. He takes time to things through and he's very organized. When the test went well, we decided Thursday morning we should go to South Boston and see what we've got. What the heck, the way things had been going, what did we have to lose?"" The Bickle-Wanke connection clicked right off the truck as Bickle qualified 20th for the 43-car event. At the drop of the green, however, the day appeared as if it might be a short one as Bickle's Aqua Velva mount began to overheat. "The temperature gauge is pegged," Bickle radioed his crew. "It's up over 250 degrees. Should I come in and pit? Wanke told Bickle to stay out and maintain track position. Helped by a rash of early cautions, Bickle was able to keep the car cool long enough to make to Lap 79 when his pitted for fresh right-side tires and fuel. During the stop, the crew removed all the tape from the front grill allowing the engine to return to normal operating temperature. "That was a huge break for us," Bickle state. "It was a really hot day, one of the hottest I've ever had in a car. A lot of guys were overheating. Some of them didn't make it. Fortunately, we did." Back under green and now 29th on the scoreboard, Bickle began the long march to the front. Along the way, he dodged all but one of the 13 caution flags that slowed the event for 98 laps. In one incident, Bickle appeared to have a Turn 2 melee missed only to be collected from behind spinning his cool blue Aqua Velva racer. Bickle was able to right the car in time, however, to get back underway before losing a lap to the leaders. "At a short-track like South Boston, staying on the lead lap means everything," said Bickle, who owns more than 250 career short track victories. "If you can do that, you have a great shot at a good finish." Another pit stop, this one with 120 circuits remaining, put Bickle on four fresh tires for a sprint to the finish. Now back in 19th, Bickle battled his way to seventh place with just over 50 laps to go. He then methodically worked his was past Jeff Purvis for sixth before running down last week's winner Jason Keller for the fifth spot. A couple of late-race cautions closed the field for one last dash to the finish, but Bickle couldn't move up settling for fifth and a $15,100 payday behind winner Jeff Green, Tony Raines, Elton Sawyer and Ron Hornaday, Jr. "I would have loved to get up there and race Hornaday again just like we used to do in the Truck Series, but I was so loose at the end I could hardly stand it," said Bickle. "The heat, along with oil, rear end grease, rubber - you name it - made the track really slippery. Along with trying to race all the lapped cars still on the track, it was a pretty wild ride to the finish." The fifth-place South Boston effort equaled Bickle's Busch Series career-best effort registered in the 1995 Goodys 300 at Daytona International Speedway. On that day, Wanke was also Bickle's crew chief. "It's hard to express how grateful I am to Fred," Bickle stated. "He's helped me tremendously over the years. When I found out he left the #43 Richard Petty truck a couple of weeks ago, I called him right away. I know he's got a lot of opportunities right now, not only for this year, but beyond that. I'm just hoping we can convince him to stick around with us for some more races this season. "I also have to thank Aqua Velva and Popeyes Chicken for sticking with us this year," Bickle continued. "They have supported with us through some pretty trying times this season. If you would have told me at the start of the year that we were going to have this much trouble establishing our new Busch Series team, I would have said you were crazy. After a half a season here, I can tell you it's tougher to make these Busch races than it is to qualify for a Winston Cup race. The competition here is unbelievably close. Hopefully, this finish will finally get us on the right track and get the problems we've been having behind us for good." Bickle won't have long to rest on his laurels as he and the Aqua Velva Pontiac are entered in the Myrtle Beach 250 at Myrtle Beach (SC) Speedway this weekend. The Saturday, June 17 event will be telecast live on TNN beginning at 9:30 p.m. Eastern Time. The race will also be broadcast live on MRN radio.

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Drivers Rich Bickle , Jason Keller , Jeff Green , Elton Sawyer , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Jeff Purvis , Richard Petty