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Cline Cleans Up on Dirt, Returns to Winston West

August 16, 2000|DARIN ESPER

Troy Cline of Santa Clarita had no problem staying occupied while the NASCAR Winston West series took a one-month break following the Coors Light 200 at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Wash., on July 16.

Cline, 30, who is third in the rookie of the year points standings and 12th in the championship points standings, went back to the dirt tracks of the Sprint Car Racing Assn. He jumps back to Winston West on Saturday for the Home Depot 250 at Irwindale Speedway.

He was competitive on the dirt, finishing fourth, sixth and third in three races.

Cline, who finished ninth in a Winston West race at Irwindale on June 24, raced sprint cars from 1992 to 1999 before following Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart by moving to NASCAR stock cars from open-wheel dirt cars.

Cline won two track championships in go-carts at defunct Carlsbad Raceway before stopping in 1990 to join the crew of sprint car racer Danny Pivovaroff, who raced at nearby Ascot Park.

Pivovaroff offered Cline an old car in 1992, telling him: "If you can put it together, you can race it."

Cline was successful enough to earn rookie of the year honors in the California Racing Assn., which was the predecessor to the SCRA. He won his first feature race at Ventura Raceway in the final race of the 1995 season and has notched eight more SCRA victories.

"The transition back to sprint cars is fairly easy, just because I've been running them so long," Cline said. "The transition back to stock cars is a little more difficult [because] they're a lot heavier, they don't stop as quick, and they don't accelerate as fast.

"Of course the big part is going from dirt to asphalt. Being patient is the big thing I have to learn on the pavement because a stock car race is 250 laps and a sprint car race is only 30 laps, so you have to go for it from the beginning."

Cline's primary commitment is to Winston West, and he tries to compete in pavement sprint car races when the stock cars are off in an attempt to learn more about racing on asphalt.

Returning to dirt tracks has been more of an afterthought, since he is used to racing 35 to 40 times per year and the Winston West series is 12 races.

"If you have a good run, your confidence is up when you go to the next race and it doesn't matter what you're running at that next race," Cline said. "Being able to jump between all three classes and being able to adapt quickly has improved my ability greatly this year."

Cline made the decision to jump to Winston West in the beginning of 1999. He finished third in the SCRA points standings behind Richard Griffin of Silver City, N.M., and Cory Kruseman of Ventura.

To maintain his rookie status, Cline could compete in no more than five Winston West races in 1999. He entered two races, failing to qualify at Phoenix after crashing in practice but finished 10th in the October Classic at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield.

"It was good for a team that basically everybody came from sprint cars," said Cline, who owns his cars. "Nobody had any stock car experience, and it's the same way this year. We have only one guy with any stock car experience. It takes a lot more to run a stock car than a sprint car."

Cline said he is learning more about stock cars every race.

"We don't have a lot of money so we can't test," Cline said. "The only testing is when we show up for a race."

He made the move for financial reasons. There is more money to be won in NASCAR than in sprint cars, and he chose Winston West because the series uses the same chassis as the Winston Cup cars but with less powerful engines.

Cline hopes to reach the NASCAR Busch Grand National Division in two years and the Winston Cup by 2005.

"It's definitely been a new experience and it's been a lot of fun because we get to race with new people at new tracks," Cline said. "It's also been a little frustrating because we're used to running up front, although we knew we wouldn't run up front right away.

"It'll be more fun the more competitive we become. We're not used to running ninth, 10th and 11th."

*

Bryan Herta of Valencia might defend his consecutive championships in the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey CART series race at Laguna Seca Raceway on Sept. 10.

Dale Coyne racing is negotiating to have Herta drive the final six races of the series in place of rookie Takuya Kurosawa, who will undergo season-ending back surgery as the result of crashes in consecutive oval-track races at Nazareth, Pa., and Michigan International Speedway.

Gualter Salles of Brazil replaced Kurowsawa on Sunday in the Miller Lite 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio.

"Dale originally contacted me shortly after his driver was injured at Michigan, but I wasn't able to do it," Herta said. "It originally appeared Takuya was going to miss one or two races, but it went from a race-to-race deal to, 'Will you do the rest of the season?' "

Herta, who will drive exhibition laps in a car owned by Derek Walker to open the new Eurospeedway at Lausitzring, Germany, this weekend, expects to have a deal for 2001 within six weeks.

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