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Thursday, April 20, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Auto racing

Seattle Times staff reporter

Derrike Cope's No. 1 task isn't so much about trying to win races as it is about having a race car.

The Spanaway veteran of a dozen NASCAR Winston Cup seasons is between jobs again, a victim of his most recent team's financial shortfall.

"They gave me an opportunity to leave, and I took it," Cope said by telephone from his home in Charlotte, N.C.

"They" in Cope's case are the brothers Fenley, Robert and Randy, Californians who bought out the Bud Moore racing operation in Spartanburg, S.C., and then tried to run a Winston Cup campaign without a major sponsor.

Cope's "opportunity" to leave the team came when, according to him, a paycheck was late.

"When they failed to pay me, I invoked breach with just cause," Cope said. "Now it's up to the attorneys."

The split came before Sunday's Winston Cup race at Talladega, where Ted Musgrave drove - and wrecked - the Fenley/Moore Motorsports Ford. He finished 35th.

"I had done everything I could do to help them," Cope said.

Before the season-opener at Daytona, Cope didn't conceal the fact the team was underfunded. But, he said this week, that he had been led to believe that the Fenleys were strong enough financially to bankroll a season or two without a major sponsor.

Didn't happen.

And for Cope, the pattern of car-owner inconsistency is getting old. From his two-win year in 1990, which included victory in the Daytona 500, through 1992, Cope drove for Bob Whitcomb. Since then he has competed on behalf of eight owners.

Next? At 41, Cope isn't sure. Obviously, he is an experienced driver who is available. He also indicated that he might try to put together his own team.p

Portland doubleheader

If the forecast of weekend rain at Portland International Raceway comes true, NASCAR history will be made in defiance of Richard Petty.

The King once said that NASCAR drivers should never race in the rain. And to this day, no NASCAR touring series race - Winston Cup, Busch or Craftsman Truck - has been run in rain.

But in keeping with traditional road-racing formats, the Craftsman trucks will not only have a European-style qualifying session tomorrow on the 1.95-mile PIR road course but will race in the rain Saturday (noon, ESPN). Goodyear is supposed to have 300 rain tires available.

The second race of the PIR doubleheader - the second Raybestos Northwest Tour event of the year - will not be contested in rain. Instead, it would be postponed until Sunday.

Rain and the multi-turn road course could play havoc with the truck drivers, most of whom are products of traditional oval-track venues. Only two road races are on the truck series schedule - Portland and Watkins Glen - with a variety of ovals ranging from short tracks such as .646-mile Evergreen Speedway (June 3) to the superspeedways making up a bulk of the 24-race schedule.

One driver who wouldn't mind some rain is Rob Morgan, a Ford driver whose racing background includes driving sports cars on rainy road courses.

"What I'd like to see is rain just for the race so these guys don't get a chance to practice in it," said Morgan, of Conway, Ark. "I would have a distinct advantage."

Racing in the rain is different.

"You don't brake going into the corners," Morgan said. "It's almost like running on dirt."

He said entering and exiting corners is different. So different that conditions change with every lap, requiring a different strategy.

While the effect of rain on a truck race is unknown, any question about whether the pickups can be a good show on a road course - including PIR - has been answered. During the CART weekend at PIR last June, the trucks had a great race that, appropriately, was won by Greg Biffle of Vancouver, Wash.

The victory was one of a season-record nine Biffle scored en route to placing second in the final point standings in 1999. After five races this year, he is winless, a situation he hopes to correct at PIR.

"This will be the first track we've gone to this year where I've had a win," said Biffle, who drives a Roush Racing Ford.

Biffle is seventh in the point standings that are led by Mike Wallace, winner of two of the first four races.

If the Northwest Series race at PIR is anything like the season-opener at Monroe's Evergreen Speedway, no one will be disappointed. In Monroe, series rookie Gaylon Stewart led only the last one-third lap in taking the victory over Tom Sweatman and the defending series champion, Pete Harding.

Notes

-- A CART FedEx Championship Series race - the Monterrey Grand Prix - is set for Monterrey, Mexico, next year. A 2.1-mile, eight-turn road course is being built at 172-acre Fundidora Park, near downtown Monterrey.

-- The winner of the season-opening Indy Lights Series race, conducted in conjunction with Sunday's Long Beach Grand Prix, was Scott Dixon, driving for the first time for Bruce McCaw's PacWest Racing Group.

-- Everett's KRKO (1380 AM) is included on CART's 33-station radio network this season.

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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