Stephen Leicht, driver of the No. 90 Citifinancial Ford Fusion, will make his NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series debut in tomorrow's Pennsylvania 500 after qualifying 36th yesterday. Leicht, a native of Asheville, NC, has 10 NASCAR Busch Series starts on...
Stephen Leicht, driver of the No. 90 Citifinancial Ford Fusion, will make his NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series debut in tomorrow's Pennsylvania 500 after qualifying 36th yesterday. Leicht, a native of Asheville, NC, has 10 NASCAR Busch Series starts on his resume with his best finish being a 10th-place effort last month at Kentucky Speedway. He spoke about everything that has happened to him this past week just before Saturday morning's first practice session.
STEPHEN LEICHT -- No. 90 Citifinancial Ford Fusion
IS YOUR HEAD SPINNING A LITTLE BIT WITH EVERYTHING GOING ON BECAUSE YOU'VE BEEN DOING INTERVIEWS NON-STOP IN ADDITION TO DRIVING THE CAR? "I'm definitely going in circles right now. I haven't really had a chance to sit down and think about things and what's going on and what's probably going to happen, but I'm just kind of trying to play it by ear right now. They told me on Monday that I was racing here and I said 'OK' and got ready to come and only got about 15 laps of practice before we qualified, so it's tough coming to a track like this for the first time -- a really high-speed momentum race track and a car you're unfamiliar with -- so I was just glad to make the race. All that pressure of making the race is gone now and today I can just go out and concentrate on learning the track. I was still learning the track during qualifying yesterday, so I'll spend at least the first hour trying to do that. I know we can get better. There's a lot of speed left in the car and most of it is me right now just trying to learn. I've got to thank all the guys and our sponsor, Citifinancial, for hanging in there with us and working with me right now."
ELLIOTT SADLER SAID HE TOOK YOU OUT ON THE TRACK YESTERDAY. "We went out in a passenger car and he took me around for two laps and that really helped me a lot. He kind of showed me the lift points on the race track, where he's lifting and getting back to throttle, and I kind of had that in my head when I went out for the first time. I used those points and those were pretty good points to start with and now I've started to go farther, but working off of that really helped a lot."
THERE IS OBVIOUSLY A LOT GOING ON AT RYR. HOW DO YOU VIEW YOUR ROLE RIGHT NOW? "Obviously there are a lot of things happening next year with both drivers leaving and nothing has really been said about what I'll be doing next year. My mindset when I go out for the races right now, especially these first two Cup races, is don't make any mistakes, be smooth, finish on the lead lap and go out and earn the respect of these other drivers. That's what I tried doing in the first two Busch races and that worked out. They said, 'OK, now we're going to run you in a bunch of Busch races this year.' If I can do that here in the Cup races maybe they'll say, 'OK, next year we're gonna put you in a bunch of Cup races,' so hopefully it will work out both ways. But as far as trying to deal with it, yeah, it's hard to think about it but when you sit down in the race car it kind of all goes away. It's really the only place you don't think about it because then you're only focusing on being on the race track and doing what you're supposed to do."
THERE HAS BEEN A LOT OF TALK THIS YEAR ABOUT THE AGGRESSIVENESS OF SOME YOUNG DRIVERS IN THE CUP SERIES. ARE YOU AWARE OF THAT? "Yeah, I look at that but I've always been a non-aggressive guy. I really don't like to get aggressive unless there are two laps to go, I've tried passing him four times and he's blocked me and there's no way to get around him except to at least move him a little bit. I like passing cars the way I'd like them to pass me. I feel like if you can't pass him without touching him, then you don't deserve to get by him. That's just how I've raced for as long as I can remember. When you do that, you earn the respect of these guys. It lets them know they can race around you without having to worry about you doing something stupid, so when they're spotter says, 'The 90 is inside,' he's gonna give you room and he's not gonna think, 'Oh man, that's the kid that knocks everybody out of the way. I'm not gonna give him any room because he's gonna hit me no matter what. I might as well just run him in the grass while he's doing it.' I'd like for these guys to think they can race around me and not worry about it."
THERE MUST BE A FINE LINE, HOWEVER, BETWEEN GAINING RESPECT WHILE RACING HARD, RIGHT? "Yeah, you can race them hard and I'll probably give them a little extra room than I normally would to start off with. Normally these guys will give you a couple of feet, I'll probably give them half a car length just because I don't want to make a little mistake and cause both of us to wreck or get damage. I'm gonna be a little careful the first two races until these guys start realizing that I'm not gonna make a mistake and race them clean."
HOW WOULD YOU GAUGE YOUR BUSCH PROGRESS SO FAR THIS SEASON? "I know our finishes weren't great, but we did have a top 10 and 13th and a 15th and that was only my sixth or seventh Busch race, so we were definitely getting the hang of it and I was starting to get more comfortable with those cars. Now just as I get comfortable, I get moved up to a Cup car (laughing). That's what kind of worried me a little bit, I didn't want to go too fast. I wanted to be ready. Even though I'm not super-comfortable yet, if Robert does feel like I am ready, then I have to trust in them that they know what they're talking about. I feel like we'll have at least a couple of top fives before the end of the year in the Busch car and, hopefully, you never know, a couple of things go our way we'll end up winning one."