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Earnhardt Will Miss North Wilkesboro

September 29, 1996

NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. (AP) _ Dale Earnhardt is going to miss North Wilkesboro Speedway for a lot of reasons.

Not only did he grow up coming to this track from his home in Kannapolis, N.C., about 75 miles away, to watch his father, Ralph race here, but Earnhardt has had some pretty impressive success in his own career on the .625-mile oval.

Earnhardt, who finished second in Sunday’s Tyson Holly Farms 400, the last Winston Cup event scheduled at the track, has posted four victories and 32 top-10 finishes in 36 races at North Wilkesboro.

``I know we have to go on to the new tracks for the sponsors and the growth of the series, but I’m going to miss coming here,″ Earnhardt said. ``I’ve always liked this track. It was a good place for us to race.″

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LAST PICTURE: There were no formal ceremonies dedicating the final Winston Cup race at North Wilkesboro, but NASCAR did arrange for a pre-race photograph of the 37 competitors in the event.

The drivers, in their uniforms, lined up for the photo at the start-finish line, with series flagman Doyle Ford standing above them on the flagstand holding a Winston Cup banner.

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LIKE A ROCK: Jeff Gordon’s recent hot streak has helped Chevrolet build a 205-196 point lead over Ford in the battle for the Winston Cup Manufacturers’ Championship.

Gordon, who won his third straight race Sunday, has 10 of Chevy’s 15 wins this season. He has scored 108 of Chevrolet’s points.

Ford has won the other 12 races, with Pontiac shut out so far this season.

The 10 victories by Gordon are the most since Rusty Wallace won 10 in 1993. With four races to go this season, nobody has won more since Bill Elliott’s 11 victories in 1985.

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NEW DRIVER: Team-owner Darrell Waltrip has found someone whom he hopes will eventually replace driver Darrell Waltrip on the Western Auto Stores team.

Rich Bickle Jr., an occasional competitor in the Winston Cup series since 1989, has signed on for 1997 to drive Waltrip’s NASCAR Craftsman Truck and Busch Grand National entries, as well as piloting a second Chevrolet Monte Carlo in a handful of Winston Cup events.

``We don’t know exactly what the future holds at this point, but we feel fortunate to have found a driver as talented as Rich Bickle to work with us,″ said Waltrip, who has been talking for the past year about finding a driver to replace him when he gets out of the cockpit for the last time.

The 49-year-old Waltrip, a three-time Winston Cup champion and winner of 84 races, is expected to retire as a driver after next season. He has not won since September 1992 at Darlington, S.C.

Bickle drove 10 races for Harry Melling in 1994 and eight for Dick Brooks in 1995, but has not made a Winston Cup start this season. He has not had a top-10 finish in 34 career starts.

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