Leonard Ready For Salem Thunder Salem, Indiana - - Buckle up and hang on tight. After competing in Superspeedways for the first two events on the ARCA RE/MAX Series schedule, Johnny Leonard and his Florida Motorsports Group (FMG) team head to ...
Leonard Ready For Salem Thunder
Salem, Indiana - - Buckle up and hang on tight. After competing in Superspeedways for the first two events on the ARCA RE/MAX Series schedule, Johnny Leonard and his Florida Motorsports Group (FMG) team head to Salem Speedway, for the first of several short track events on the 2005 RE/MAX Series schedule.
Even though the Cape Coral, Florida native hasn't competed on a short track in nearly two years, he's rolling into Salem with high expectations. When Leonard first joined the RE/MAX Series tour back in 2003, the fall Salem event was one of three short track events that he competed on.
On that day, driving for Bobby Gerhart Racing (BGR), Leonard posted a very competitive 21st place qualifying effort. During the race, Leonard used the green flag conditions as a chance to learn the half-mile bullring. Rookie patience paid off as Leonard muscled his No. 6 Affordable Roofing Chevrolet to a stout 15th place finish in his Salem debut.
This weekend, Leonard heads to the track looking for two things, a top-ten finish and a considerable climb in the RE/MAX Series point standings. The first two events have been frustrating for this rookie team. In Daytona, Leonard while running in the top-twenty was collected in the first "big one." At Nashville, a blown tire destroyed a good primary car. The team overcame adversity and qualified in a back-up car, but a mechanical failure under race conditions regulated the team to another disappointing finish.
Despite the lows, the team's moral have remained high and the entire organization is looking forward to a productive weekend in the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers 200.
"I'm a big fan of Salem," said the driver, Johnny Leonard. "It's a fast track and a lot of fun to drive. It's like a Bristol and Darlington all in one. I know how to get around the track, and that's a good thing. The crew has worked hard preparing the primary and the backup, we're just looking to make some noise this weekend."
Aiding the FMG team this weekend will be Ted Kennedy. Kennedy, a former crew chief in the NASCAR Busch Series and Craftsman Truck Series has leaped aboard the team looking to guide them into victory circle in the coming weeks. "Ted has really been a big asset to this organization," continued Leonard. "He is teaching me things. We tested at Lakeland in preparation for this weekend's event and every change he made to the car worked. When I'm in the car, I can't worry about what changes to make to get the car better, that's his job and I think we're there."
NASCAR driver Eric Jones will return as the team's spotter for this weekend. Jones, who has prior experience in the ARCA RE/MAX Series driving for Larry Clement was beneficial during the team's event at Nashville last month.
Boca Bay Builders will hold primary sponsorship on Leonard's Chevrolet Monte Carlo for the third of 23 events this season. Founded in 2002, Boca Bay is Southwest Florida's newest premier homebuilder. Their elite group of building executives bring more than 50 years of combined industry knowledge to your home buying experience.
Affordable Roofing joins the team as a major associate sponsor this weekend. Proving to be one of the most respected roofing organizations in southern Florida, Affordable Roofing details your every roofing need at a respectable and affordable rate.
Tex Racing Enterprises will serve as the team's driveline supplier for the event, while AMSOIL joins the team as the official lubricant for the first event of the season. pme engines (Pro-Motor Engineering) is supplying the horsepower under the hood at Nashville.
In addition, Russo's Tinting and Hampton Inn & Suites -- Scottsburg, Indiana will serve as associate sponsors this weekend.
"We have a lot of great sponsors affiliated with this team this weekend and season," explained Leonard. "Our sponsors mean a lot to this team and if we can go out there and run well, we know we've done our job. We need to get the monkey off of our back and this would be a great place to change our season around."
With an astronomical entry list expected this weekend, Leonard knows he has to be patient in the first practice sessions and save his car for when it counts the most, qualifying.
"I'm going to play it safe, but we have to see how the car is feeling. The team knows what worked well at the test, so we've set our standards a little bit, but we have to keep focused, avoid any trouble that could occur during practice."
"When qualifying rolls around, I would love to start inside the top-ten. We have to get a good lap, I have to hit all my marks, and not make a mistake. We're running for a championship this season, we can't afford to make any errors that could hurt us in the end. In short track racing, it's all about starting near the front. Our qualifying efforts have been mid-packed this season thus far. We're looking to change those stats this weekend.
"Happy Hour will be a short session, but we look to make the most of it. We'll set the car up for race mode. It's a short race and I'm thinking there is going to be a fair amount of caution laps. We'll use pit strategy to our advantage as best as we can and plan to keep the car out of the "eye of the storm." It would be great to stay with the lead pack, lead some laps, and be battling for the win at the end of the day."
Despite it being the third race of the season, Leonard is continuing to eye the bigger picture. "We're running for the championship. I know it's going to be tough. We're behind right now, but we have a good team, lots of experience, good equipment, and good horsepower, the rest is up to the driver, and I'm ready."
The Kentuckiana Ford Dealers 200 is the third of 23 events on the 2005 ARCA RE/MAX Series schedule. Practice begins Saturday, April 23rd with an extensive morning session planned. Qualifying is also on tap for Saturday afternoon with the race set to take the green flag Sunday, April 24th, 2005. While the race won't be televised, look for the latest news and results from the track at ARCARacing.com.