NICE FIRST IMPRESSION
HOMESTEAD, Fla. To put Cole Whitt's two-race introduction to the Nationwide Series in perspective, consider this:
+ The team quickly converted the fourth of five K&N Pro Series East cars into a Nationwide car in time for Whitt to make his debut Nov. 13 at Phoenix. He paced final practice and finished 15th in only his 11th NASCAR race.
+ Whitt brought the Phoenix car home clean as can be, so the team double- timed it in the shop and brought the No. 84 Red Bull Toyota back for Saturday's season-ending Homestead 300. The car unloaded fast. Whitt was fourth in final practice, qualified 10th and rallied to finish 17th in the race after an early tire failure.
No testing. No "notebook" to refer to as Whitt took to a 1.5-mile track for the first time. Just a new team and new driver matching speed with the best the Nationwide Series has to offer.
"We showed we have plenty of speed and can run with anyone out here," said the 19-year-old Whitt. "We threw this together at the last minute. We were playing catch-up with some of these guys, and we did really good. We can only get better. I just hope we can get something together full-time."
Running 11th on lap 45, contact with the No. 6 sent Whitt to pit road under green with a blown left-rear tire. He returned a lap down in 34th and twice got the free pass, the second coming on lap 101. Soon he was 20th, and the No. 84 crew gained four positions in the pits to 16th and then the driver moved to 12th.
Whitt pitted under caution for the final time with 37 laps to go. But not all lead-lap cars followed suit, and a set of scuffed tires from earlier in the race eventually wore out. Whitt finished 17th.
"When we cut that tire early in the race, it put us off tire sequence with a lot of the lead cars," Whitt said. "During the last run we had a set of mix- matched scuffs, which made the car looser and unfortunately we lost some spots at the end. It was a good effort for our second race, although I was hoping for a top 10. I want to thank everyone at Red Bull Racing Team for this opportunity and all the hard work they have put in."