NASCAR AUTOZONE ELITE DIVISION, SOUTHEAST SERIES DRIVERS LOOK TO GRAB ATTENTION AT KENTUCKY SPEEDWAY DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (June 14, 2005) -- The NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southeast Series drivers will be in the spotlight once again this...
NASCAR AUTOZONE ELITE DIVISION, SOUTHEAST SERIES DRIVERS LOOK TO GRAB ATTENTION AT KENTUCKY SPEEDWAY
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (June 14, 2005) -- The NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southeast Series drivers will be in the spotlight once again this Friday night at Kentucky Speedway, as they will compete in conjunction with the NASCAR Busch Series for the second straight weekend.
Last Friday night at Nashville Superspeedway, J.R. Norris took his second career victory at the very same track that he won his first race in 2004. The Southeast Series race was a night prior to the NASCAR Busch Series race that got rained-out by and was completed Sunday afternoon. After the NASCAR Busch Series teams and drivers got finished with their first practice session, more than a few stayed around to watch the Southeast Series drivers in action.
"We are definitely in the spotlight in front of a lot of great Busch Series teams and drivers," Norris says. "They all take notice of what the Southeast Series teams and drivers are doing. It's cool because they do pay so much attention to who runs well and wins. David Stremme came up to me last Friday night at Nashville after I won. He talked to me and told me I did a good job.
"People do notice the Southeast Series drivers when we get the chance to run in conjunction with the Busch Series on the same weekends. It helps us all get a lot of exposure."
The Southeast Series qualifies Friday afternoon and races that same night in the Insight Communications 150 while the NASCAR Busch Series teams and drivers do just the same the following day leading into Saturday night's Meijer 300 Presented by Oreo.
Erik Darnell, the driver of the No. 7 Simply Wow Chevrolet, is walking proof that top NASCAR team owners and drivers look to the Southeast Series competitors for future talent.
"I definitely think it's a good thing as far as exposure," says Erik Darnell, a standout Southeast Series competitor in 2004 who recently signed a driver developmental contract with Roush Racing. "In my case, I'm pretty lucky because I've already caught somebody's eye and got a good deal going for me. But it's also huge for the other drivers who are trying to get recognized.
"It's very satisfying to see that these big NASCAR team owners are looking at Southeast Series drivers who are young and talented. They do pay attention to this series. I feel like I'm very fortunate to be in the situation I'm in and have an opportunity like this."
Dusty Williams is another driver looking for big things this Friday night, heading into the 100-lap race around the 1.5-mile oval with sole possession of the Southeast Series championship lead for the first time in his career.
"I'm looking forward to the challenge," says Williams, a native of Savannah, Ga. "These two races at Kentucky and Nashville are huge for the Southeast Series drivers because of the exposure we get by racing on the same weekend as the cars and stars of the Busch Series. I love racing every weekend whether it's in the Southeast Series or on an off weekend when I'll go dirt track racing."
While some drivers go into the Southeast Series/Busch Series conjunction races hoping their on-track efforts open the eyes of potential team owners, Williams has chosen a different approach by going to teams like Roush Racing and letting them know of his interest.
In fact, Williams introduced himself to team owner Jack Roush last weekend prior to the NASCAR Busch Series race at Nashville.
"I saw Jack Roush sitting on the pit wall talking on his cell phone before the Busch race, so I thought that might be a golden opportunity to let him know who I was," Williams explains. "I was dressed up pretty nice so I felt presentable to walk up to him and let him know who I was. I waited for him to get off the phone before I walked up and introduced myself. I didn't think I really had anything to lose. I didn't want to take up too much of his time and irritate him. I did what I wanted to do so hopefully that will pay off."
Williams and Norris put on a heated but classy battle for the lead in last Friday night's 100-lapper at Nashville, trading the race lead back and forth on numerous occasions. The starting line-up at Nashville was set on points per the NASCAR rulebook after inclement weather washed out qualifying. That put Williams on the pole, but contact with Jeff Fultz sent the driver of the No. 40 Pennzoil Chevrolet for a spin. Jason Hogan held the lead for the first nine laps before being passed by Norris.
Williams fought back and reclaimed the top spot when he passed Hogan coming off the fourth turn at the 1.33-mile track. The duo of Williams and Norris put on a thrilling show as they traded the lead back and fourth until Williams had to make a late pit stop for a tire rub, though he did rally back to finish third.
"That was a lot of fun being able to race Dusty like that," Norris said. "It really is nice to see him running so good at every race we've had so far this year. I know how bad he wanted to win that race, and to be honest, if he hadn't had that tire problem he probably would have won the race. Dusty had a real good car and I was happy to see him be able to fight back and finish third. He really drove his heart out, but things just turned out in my favor.
"The neat part about racing with Dusty is I know he's never going to put a scratch on my car. When he got under me, I gave him room. When I got under him, he gave me room. We gave each other plenty of room and that's just the way you're supposed to race on a superspeedway. We all know we're going to rub and bump into each other when we race at the short tracks, but there's no need in doing that at a superspeedway because we're going so fast. Plus, at a superspeedway there's plenty of room so it just makes good common sense to race everybody clean."
Williams admits that it's fun being able to race so hard against a fellow competitor like Norris and not having to worry about him making a mistake.
"That was awesome racing with J.R.," Williams says. "I noticed that most of the times when we traded the lead, it was around lapped traffic. It seemed like whoever was in second knew which way the leader was going to go and they went the other way. There were no close calls at all. If I knew he was going to make a move under me I'd get out of his way. J.R. raced me exactly the same way. I really enjoyed it because I knew the best car was going to win that race.
"Unfortunately for me, I ended up having to make a pit stop because we had a tire that was rubbing on the left-front. We were able to finish third, but I sure wanted that guitar that the race winner at Nashville is always given as a trophy. J.R. ended up winning and I couldn't be happier than to see him win."
For now, the focus of the trio of Williams, Norris and Darnell is centered on getting to victory lane Friday night at Kentucky.
"I'd never really had a lot of confidence on the superspeedway because of how I've done in the past," Williams says. "It was basically me just going out there and watch the field drive away from me. I think this Friday night's race is going to be a true test of where we stand as a team for the rest of the year. Last Friday at Nashville, when I was out there passing all those cars and battling for the lead, that cemented my faith in my driving abilities as well as what this entire team is capable of. I know now that we are going to be a force for the championship."
Norris also admits that his confidence level is at an all-time high heading into Friday night's race at Kentucky thanks to his victory at Nashville a week ago.
"We've never really had a car that had a chance at winning at Kentucky," Norris says. "We've always had a car that was capable of a good top-five finish. I think we're going to have a better car than I had at Nashville. I'm going to make a few changes to the car to get it to handle better than it has in the past. We'll see what happens because it's a long race and we're going to have to have the car good on long runs."
Norris is also hoping he can improve his third-place finish at Nashville by a couple of positions and be in contention for the victory at Kentucky.
"I think we're going to be pretty good this weekend," Norris says. "We led the first 25 laps last year at Kentucky before we made a pit stop then got caught up in a wreck. So I think we're going to be just as good if not better than we were there last year. I really think we've got a very good shot of winning at Kentucky."