Stricklin hopes to recapture glory days

Journeyman Hut Stricklin, coming off a 2002 best finish of 15th in Martinsville last weekend, has seen many sides of racing in the last several years.

After starting 21 races in 2001 for Junie Donlavey Racing, the Calera native &045; and his sponsor Hills Bros. Coffee &045; is now with Bill Davis Racing running in the No. 23 Dodge.

Stricklin, who won a career high $1,006,021 last year despite his short campaign, is looking forward to returning home for the Talladega 500 this weekend.

&uot;It’s a place I always look forward to, regardless of how we run,&uot; Stricklin said. &uot;I am especially looking forward to coming back this year because I am coming with a good race team. We are bringing a new car that seems pretty good.&uot;

Stricklin has already had some success with Bill Davis Racing, finishing 11th in his first start for BDR in the Atlanta season finale.

This season, Stricklin has not done as well to date, with his best finish coming at the UAW DaimlerChrysler 400 in 24th place.

Stricklin started the season with a 27th place finish at the Subway 400, followed with the 24th place finish at the DaimlerChrysler 400 then finished last (43rd) at the MBNA America 500.

Stricklin finished 32nd in the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 the next week before ending the Food City 500 in 35th the next week. Two weeks ago, Stricklin came in 27th in the Samsung/Radio Shack 500.

The Calera native feels his chances are good at Talladega this weekend.

&uot;I feel really good about things,&uot; Stricklin said. &uot;I think we can win just like anyone else. If the car is as good as I think it is going to be, we have a chance to run up front.&uot;

Stricklin said running up front the entire race is not always necessary.

&uot;It isn’t necessary to run up front the whole day,&uot; Stricklin said. &uot;You see a lot of cars come from the back to the front and a lot of cars go from the front to the back. It’s hard to count out anyone at any time at Talladega because it is fairly easy to make your way from the back to the front. That’s what makes this race so fun.&uot;

The NASCAR driver did say qualifying would be important this time around at Talladega.

&uot;Usually, qualifying is not important at Talladega because it doesn’t matter really where you start,&uot; Stricklin said. &uot;However, this year it will be important because we have had a slow start in the point standings. We need all the points we can get. But it is most important that we just qualify period.&uot;

Stricklin said his race team has not shown its full potential so far this season.

&uot;We have run awful good at a ton of places this year, but haven’t had the finish to show for it,&uot; Stricklin said. &uot;We have just had some rotten luck. At Texas, we pitted four times and three of those the yellow came out while we were in the pits. That kind of put us behind the eight ball. We’ve had a lot of those situations even though we’ve had a car that I believe could have finished in the top five or 10.

&uot;But this team has got just about everything we need to win, but it just takes a little time. We are getting stronger and stronger.&uot;

After a stint in the NASCAR Busch Series, he teamed up with Donlavey and ran seven races late in the 2000 season. His best race finish with Donlavey was a sixth-place effort in the Kmart 400 at Michigan International Speedway in June 2001.

Stricklin has had some good flashes in his career, including two second-place finishes and a Bud Pole in 1995 at Rockingham, but he has struggled to get into a stable environment. While driving for fellow Alabama resident Bobby Allison in 1991, Stricklin finished the year 16th in the standings, his best showing to date.

One of the high points in his career was a second-place finish to Jeff Gordon in the 1996 Southern 500 at Darlington, where an overheating race car cost him a chance to challenge for the win.

He calls his own best moment his other runner-up run, to his good friend the late Davey Allison at Michigan in 1991 when he drove for Allison’s father.

Stricklin was Alabama Limited Sportsman champion in 1978-79 and won championships in the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series in 1982 and 1984. He won the 1986 Goody’s Dash Series championship, winning nine of 17 races and 10 poles.

Stricklin was the runner-up for Winston Cup Rookie of the Year in 1989.

The Calera native said he always like to come back to Alabama to visit his old stomping ground.

&uot;I usually come down a week ahead of time, but I went to Virginia for the race at Martinsville so I won’t be in town that long,&uot; Stricklin said. &uot;But I always like coming home and getting to see my family. My mom still lives in Calera, and my sister lives in the area and my dad is in Pelham, so I am looking forward to visiting with all of them while I’m in town. I miss Calera and Shelby County a lot, and it’s always great to come home, even if it’s just for a little while.&uot;