Strickland looks to imitate teammate

By Jeff Birchfield

   NASCAR veteran Hut Strickland knows that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. In his case, the person he would most like duplicate is teammate Ward Burton, who opened the season with a win in the Daytona 500, with a win of his own in Sunday's Food City 500.
   "We were real excited to see that happen," said Strickland, 40. "A lot of people would have took it the wrong way, but, we felt we could reap a lot of benefits from our teammate doing that. There were a lot of mixed emotions. We missed the race, but then our teammate wins the race. We feel like we're getting this team up to par."
   Driving this season for car owner Bill Davis in the No. 23 Hills Brothers Coffee Dodge, Strickland considers himself lucky. "Bill is one of the top car owners out there," said Strickland. "He's not only a great car owner, he's great guy. Being the type owner that he is, he gives us all we need to do the job with.
   "We feel like neither one of our teams lack for anything. Whatever it is (we need) Bill steps up to the plate. He's genuinely a good guy. That's kind of a rarity in the sport."
   Growing up in Calera, Alabama, Strickland lived out a dream earlier in his career when he drove for Bobby Allison. "Bobby, Donnie (Allison, Hut's father in law) and Red Farmer were my heroes," said Strickland. "It was a golden opportunity to drive for him and spend a lot of time with him. Some of my best racing memories have been those years."
   Among those memories, the race at Michigan in 1991, when he finished second to Bobby's son Davey stands out the most. "That was a good race for us," said the 1986 NASCAR Dash Series Champion. "I always run good there for some reason. It's without a doubt one of my fondest memories. It wasn't only a great finish, but I finished second to one of my great friends.
   "The plane ride home, he and I used to fly together, was something. We kind of had bragging rights that two boys from Alabama finished 1-2. It was a special deal."
   Strickland's best finish in the Winston Cup Series remains that magical day at Michigan. He also won a pole position at Rockingham in 1995, when he was driving the No. 8 Stavola Brothers Racing Ford.
   Now with a brand change to Dodge, Hut is optimistic this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway can be a great one. "I've been really amazed at how much information all 10 of the Dodge teams share," Strickland admitted. "We don't race each other as much as we try to beat everybody else. It's a great relationship to be involved with Dodge."