New Faces Bring Experienced Outlook To Daytona
* Keselowski Ready For Challenge Of Driving For JR Motorsports
* McClure Happy To Find Home In NASCAR Nationwide Series
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 19, 2008) -- As the NASCAR Nationwide Series drivers prepare to kick off a new season at Daytona International Speedway, the garage is filled with a lot of fresh faces.
For drivers like Bryan Clauson (No. 41 Chip Ganassi Racing/Felix Sabates Dodge) the advantage of having run a handful of races in 2007 takes on increased importance as a new crop of drivers prepare for the 2008 season.
"It's nice," said Clauson during Saturday's NASCAR Preseason Thunder lunch break in the infield media center at Daytona International Speedway. "You've been able to experience everything at least once. You've been to a rookie meeting. You've been to a drivers meeting. It just takes that initial period of where you're lost and you can just focus on racing."
Inclement weather delayed testing Saturday morning. The drivers were able to take the track for drafting practice shortly after 1 p.m. The opening session of NASCAR Preseason Thunder testing for the NASCAR Nationwide Series will continue Sunday beginning at 9 a.m. and the testing sessions are open to fans at no cost.
Clauson was joined in the media center by Brad Coleman (No. 27 Kleenex Ford) and Landon Cassill (No. 5 National Guard Chevrolet).
Cassill, who will attempt to qualify for the ARCA race at Daytona Feb. 9, is at Daytona early spotting for 1994 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion David Green (No. 5 JR Motorsports Chevrolet). Cassill is slated to run 19 NASCAR Nationwide Series races after making six starts in 2007.
"It knocks the edge off a little bit," said Cassill of last year's experience. "This year will be a lot better because I'm running more races. I'll be able to stay sharp."
Coleman is making the transition from Joe Gibbs Racing to the Nashville, Tenn-based Baker Curb Racing. For Coleman, a Texas native, getting to spend time in the country music capital has been a perk. And he's looking forward to the remainder of testing at Daytona to become better acclimated with his new team.
Coleman was the most experienced of Monday's media center gathering. He ran 19 races in 2007 in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, earning a pole at Talladega Superspeedway to go along with three top fives and five top 10s.
"It definitely takes a lot of hard work and dedication to get to this level," Coleman said. "There's not one of us that hasn't given up going to prom or going to some parties with friends or going to a concert. Every weekend you're out at the race track. It's what it takes. You just have to dedicate your life to it and work as hard as you can. But once you get there, it's all worth it. It feels good."
Running in the NASCAR Nationwide Series also means exposure to an even higher level of competition against veterans of the series, as well as NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers who run in the series.
That suits the younger drivers just fine.
"When I was growing up racing go-karts and late models," Cassill said, "we went to all the races where all the toughest drivers and the biggest fields were. This is no different right now. I don't have any desire to go to the easy races and just take the easy wins and easy top fives and easy top 10s. You want to earn them. That's what racing is all about. It's not just about the numbers at the end. It's about the race -- learning and earning your finish."
The 2008 NASCAR Nationwide Series season kicks off at Daytona Feb. 16 with the Camping World 300 presented by Chevrolet.
McClure's Career Is In Gear ... Eric McClure (No. 24 Hefty Brand Chevrolet) has a new team, a new number (24) and a new outlook on the 2008 NASCAR Nationwide Series season. The Abington, Va., resident enters his second full-time season in the series with Front Row Motorsports, an organization that moved from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to the NASCAR Nationwide Series this year. In 2007, he ran for Johnny Davis Motorsports in the No. 0 Chevrolet.
McClure has competed in a handful of NASCAR Sprint Cup events but finds he's more at home in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for numerous reasons. "I'm really happy where I'm at right now," McClure said Saturday. "I always wanted to be a Cup driver as I grew up and had the opportunity to run a few races in that series. But I really like where I'm at and I feel that's where we need to be."
"I don't want to say that we don't want to strive to get to that next level but that's not really a priority right now," said McClure. "The Nationwide Series has other benefits; you get an extra day off during the week and get some free time with the family." That is an aspect that's become increasingly more important to McClure, who became a first-time father to daughter Mabreigh Elizabeth last March.
Keselowski Ready For Challenge ... Brad Keselowski (No. 5 U.S. Navy Chevrolet) knows the expectations that come from running for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and he feels he's up to the task.
"Just being with a quality team like JR Motorsports and having the opportunity I have, there's a lot of pressure that comes with that," Keselowski said. "And I feel like I'm ready for that. I've gone through some smaller deals that have prepared me for this situation and I feel like now is my time to shine and make that work out."
Keselowski, who was fourth fastest in Friday morning's practice, also knows that when it comes to the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona, there are few better to run with than Earnhardt Jr. In addition to a Daytona 500 win in 2004, Keselowski's car owner has won the NASCAR Nationwide Series race that precedes the Daytona 500 three times, and the July NASCAR Nationwide Series race twice.
"I'm sure that if it comes down to it and we're together and we're up there and still running with each other toward the end of the race, we'll be a tough duo to beat -- so that's really exciting," Keselowski said. "Not only is he my car owner, he's a two-time Nationwide Series champion. He brings a lot to the table in terms of guidance."
Pit Stops ... Since testing was limited to the afternoon session due to inclement weather earlier in the day on Saturday, testing speeds will reflect only the single session which focused on the draft. Log on to www.NASCARMedia.com for Saturday's speeds. Driver interview audio and photos are also available for download.
Session I: NASCAR Nationwide Series teams in odd positions in car owner standings as of July 17, 2007
What: NASCAR Preseason Thunder testing for the 2008 Camping World 300 presented by Chevrolet
Where: Daytona International Speedway.
Track Layout: 2.5-mile tri-oval.
When: Friday, Jan. 18 through Sunday, Jan. 20.
Times: 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.
Who: Mike Wallace, Johnny Sauter, Brandon Miller, Clint Bowyer, Robert Richardson, David Green, Kyle Busch, Mike McLaughlin, Tim McCreadie, Eric McClure, Brad Coleman, Brian Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Kenny Wallace, Dario Franchitti, Bryan Clauson, Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski, Danny O'Quinn Jr., Erik Darnell, Greg Biffle.