CONCORD, N.C. (Dec. 20, 1999) Making the move from open-wheel racing to NASCAR stock cars can be difficult at best, but NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division driver Ashton Lewis Jr. is approaching the transition as an educational...
CONCORD, N.C. (Dec. 20, 1999) Making the move from open-wheel racing to NASCAR stock cars can be difficult at best, but NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division driver Ashton Lewis Jr. is approaching the transition as an educational experience as he tries to master the nuances of stock cars.
During the 2000 season Lewis will compete in at least 15 events on the NASCAR Busch Series schedule for the newly formed Lewis Motorsports. While he has only competed in a limited number of races in the NASCAR Busch Series, Lewis was an accomplished open-wheel driver. He is hoping to transfer that success to his family-run team.
Lewis set records in the Skip Barber Formula Ford Series in 1991 by winning the most races in a season and accumulating the most points in a single season. The Chesapeake, Va., native was awarded the Team USA Scholarship in 1992 to race Formula Fords in England. He finished 15th out of 187 drivers.
After winning two races in the Barber Saab Pro Series in 1992, Lewis began his transition to stock cars in 1993. In his first season, he earned rookie of the year honors at Langley Speedway, a NASCAR Weekly Racing Series facility in Hampton, Va. He made his NASCAR Busch Series debut on the road course at Watkins Glen International in New York.
According to Lewis, that first season of stock-car racing was quite a learning experience.
"The biggest problem for me was learning the limits of a stock car," Lewis said. "As a driver, you tend not to drive a stock car as hard as you drive an open-wheeled car. Open-wheeled cars tend to be a little more forgiving than a Late Model or a Busch car. In an open-wheeled car, you have a lot of tire for a very light car as compared to the tire/weight ratio of a stock car."
As Lewis continued his education in stock cars, he was also earning a mechanical engineering degree from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. For his senior project, he constructed a Late Model car. In that same car in 1997, Lewis won six races and five pole positions in the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series at Langley Speedway and Southampton Speedway in Virginia.
The transition from open-wheel racing to stock cars was working successfully for Lewis and his brother Charlie, who helped him on the Late Model project and who will be his crew chief in the NASCAR Busch Series.
"The progression from open-wheeled cars, to Late Models, to Busch cars seemed to be the natural fit for me," Ashton Lewis said. "Late Models helped me tremendously because they have some of the same characteristics of open-wheeled cars while at the same time I got the experience of being in a stock car."
Lewis spent his time in the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series learning as much about the differences between cars as possible. Tire management was one of the biggest learning curves that Lewis had to overcome.
"When I first started racing Late Models, we were always fast, but we weren't getting the finishes that we wanted," Lewis said. "It took me a while to adjust my driving style so that I could race with the other drivers from the beginning of a run to the end. Once I learned how to conserve my tires for longer runs and races, I started to run better and win races."
When asked why drivers from the open-wheel ranks are having success in NASCAR, Lewis said, "There are many different reasons why drivers have success behind the wheel, but the best way I can describe it is like the difference between Winston Cup cars and Busch cars.
"Due to the horsepower differences, a Cup driver doesn't feel quite as much on the edge in a Busch car as he does when he is in a Cup car. Once you learn the limits of a stock car you don't feel quite as much on the edge as you do in an open-wheeled car."
Lewis has always exhibited a scholarly approach to racing, and the 2000 NASCAR Busch Series season is his next course. He has been preparing for several years for the opportunity in front of him.