"OH WHAT A RELIEF"!
"Relief" is how one might describe Kevin Buckler's first official "NASCAR" day at Daytona International Speedway Friday.
And, no, it didn't really have much to do with driver Andy Lally posting the second-fastest speed of first-day 2008 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series testing in TRG Motorsports' No. 7 Chevy Silverado (48.753 lap at 184.604 mph).
"Walking into the garage today was a totally different feeling," Buckler said. "Believe it or not, it was relaxing, because we've got only one truck to worry about and one group of guys who are very good at what they do."
Buckler is accustomed to showing up at Daytona International with a bevy of racing machines (10 TRG Porsches - seven Rolex Series; three Koni Challenge cars and the corresponding personnel will descend on Daytona in another two weeks for the 46th Rolex 24 At Daytona race weekend).
"It's a whole different mindset here today," said the two-time Rolex 24 At Daytona winning driver (a 2002 class win and the 2003 overall race winner, whose co-drivers for the latter race were Michael Schrom, Timo Bernard and eventual 2006 Rolex Series Daytona Prototype driving champ Jorg Bergmeister).
"Coming here for The Rolex 24 is so intense, so big and so jam-packed that it sometimes is tough to be concerned only with the race-track action," Buckler said.
"But when this (Truck) program is firing on all cylinders, so to speak, and we get the multi-truck program running this year (Buckler expects to soon announce a second Truck team), along with the commensurate number of people and sponsors, it's going to be busy in this garage, too."
Though Buckler by nature is a high-energy-type who expects, demands and gets high levels of efficiency from his championship-winning teams (add a 2006 Grand Am Rolex Series GT Championship to his many accomplishments), he's quickly learned to value NASCAR's well honed race-event operation.
"One of the things I've learned to appreciate in being over here in NASCAR is its efficiencies," he said. "When you've got a 25- to 36-race schedule, depending on series, the crews are efficient and built around getting in, setting up and, later, breaking down in a relatively short period of time as compared to the relatively slow pace of sportscar teams."
Despite Rick Hendrick, Roger Penske and Jack Roush's successful sportscar past - in each case established well before those owners ventured into NASCAR country - some in the NASCAR community have skeptical of Buckler while most others have readily accepted TRG Motorsports.
"I'm proud of what Andy and the team accomplished here at Daytona (Friday)," Buckler said. "It's probably raised a cople of eyebrows."
"There have been a lot of meetings over the last three months with me sitting in front of people saying, 'We're coming over to the Truck series and we want to position ourselves to be like we are in Grand Am's Rolex and Koni Challenge series, and that's to be at the top.'
"I've not held it against anyone when we've gotten negative vibes. After all, we're the new kids on the block. But we still kept our heads down and dug deep - something life often requires from each of us, you know. Having a first good day like this no doubt has surprised a few people and that's good."
For Buckler, though, a good first day simply isn't good enough.
For those willing to look for it, Buckler's having quickly established TRG Motorsports' deep, talent-rich personnel pool should provide a huge clue on where he intends to take the organization.
"We've got a lot of guys that some say are 'overqualified' for Trucks, like Butch Hylton, who's scored championship titles in Sprint and Nationwide, or our GM, Marty Gaunt, who's held similar responsibilities over at with Penske, Petty and Red Bull," Buckler said.
"They're not overqualified at all because what I'm trying to do is take a different path from what some other teams have done in the past when they had but blew a golden opportunity like the one we've got right now.
"First of all, we're TRG and we're used to winning races and championships. Why should we take a different approach just because we're in another series? I'm not interested in charging to the back of the field any more than the people who are becoming an important part of TRG Motorsports.
"Because we're stepping into one of the world's topmost series we're preparing for tomorrow as much as we're preparing for today. This organization is being formed from the top-down so that when the future arrives we'll ready."
An orphan who would go on to establish one of racing's most successful operations (among other successes) with his spouse, Debra - literally from the couple's home garage in the beginning - is fully aware of what it takes.
DC Williams exclusively for Motrsport.com