From 5th at Iowa, to 3rd at Kansas, to ??? at Rockingham, 18-Year-Old Rookie Jesse Smith on the Charge ROCKINGHAM NC (5-1-08) - Eighteen-year-old ARCA RE/MAX Series rookie Jesse Smith is taking the same car he raced at Iowa and Kansas ...
From 5th at Iowa, to 3rd at Kansas, to ??? at Rockingham, 18-Year-Old Rookie Jesse Smith on the Charge
ROCKINGHAM NC (5-1-08) - Eighteen-year-old ARCA RE/MAX Series rookie Jesse Smith is taking the same car he raced at Iowa and Kansas to Rockingham. Fortunately, the Terry Jones-owned team is taking the same driver too.
Smith, of Wildwood, Missouri, is turning heads big-time within the ARCA RE/MAX Series ranks after he steered his no. 30 Lloyd's Barbeque-Spam-Hormel Dodge to back-to-back top-five finishes at Iowa and Kansas.
Smith was relatively unknown in the ARCA world when he marched through the gates at Iowa. However, after earning a solid fifth place finish in only his second series start, the ARCA newcomer went quickly from an unknown anybody to eye-catching commodity.
With his confidence on the rise, Smith then backed Iowa up with an impressive third place finish in his career-first superspeedway start last week at Kansas. Only Formula 1 veteran Scott Speed and Roush Fenway Racing's Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. finished in front of him. He not only scored a podium finish, he led three times for 24 laps, more than any other with the exception of Daytona winner Michael Annett, who led 29.
"We were really happy with Kansas," said Smith, who also earned the 2006 ASA Late Model northern division national championship. "The car worked really well at Iowa and Kansas, so we'll stick to a good thing. We're getting to know the car better and better, so we're getting a better handle on it all the time."
Smith was on the verge of making history last week at Kansas, leading in the late stages when he spun his tires on a restart. By the time he gathered the car back in, Speed blew by and cruised on to victory.
"The shifting is all new to me. The ASA cars don't shift, so I wasn't used to it. I'm not concerned though; it'll come with more time on the track."
He'll get more time "on the track" this weekend at Rockingham Speedway where the Carolina 500 is taking shape to be one of the most competitive fields in recent memory. Smith actually has a head start on this one having tested at Rockingham back in March.
"We were very happy with the test at Rockingham. We didn't do a qualifying run so our times were a little deceiving. Understanding the car more as we do, we'll go back a lot stronger. Bobby (Blount) and I are really getting used to each other, and I'm learning a lot from him."
Smith is referring to his crew chief Bobby Blount, who himself needs more than two hands to count his late model championships over the years. Blount, who is the father of ARCA RE/MAX Series winner and former rookie of the year Chad Blount, is heading up the operation for Smith.
"Bobby's been absolutely incredible. He's why we're running so good. He's helped me so much -- teaching me all about these cars. We work really well together. Every time he adjusts on the car, we go forward. He understands what I'm saying, and based on my feedback, he understand exactly what to do. He's also a good coach. He's instilling confidence me....that I can really do this, and do it well. And without confidence in this business, you're junk."
And if Smith's first superspeedway start last week at Kansas did anything beyond turning heads, it, no doubt, helped grow his confidence.
"I can't ask for more out of Kansas. It was my first time on a big track. We competed for the win, and we led a lot. We'll just build off that.
"We actually had a distributor problem in practice (at Kansas), so that got us behind. The car was really tight in the beginning, but part of that was me driving in too hard. Once I learned to drive in a little easier, it got better. But after our first pit stop, Bobby called for some adjustments to make the car looser, which helped a lot. Each time I go out, I learn something new. I really feel like I'm ready for Rockingham."
With 57 drivers entered for Rockingham, many of whom belong to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series development teams, Smith had better be ready.
"One thing I learned testing at Rockingham, was that running on old tires is going to be the secret. The tires fall off after a few laps. That's why we didn't put any new tires on. We worked on longer runs and got the car stabilized -- kept it good throughout the runs.
"Whoever wins the race at Rockingham is going to earn it; that's for sure. It's going to come down to how good the driver is and how good the car is set up. The winner, I think, is going to be the driver who is consistent on longer runs. Being fast in the short run may be impressive, but it won't win the race.
"I wasn't sure what to expect at Kansas, but coming out of there, I really feel like we have a chance to win at Rockingham, certainly a top-five. I mean the team is meshing so well -- way above my expectations."
On track activities begin on Friday May 2nd at 2:00 P.M. with practice for the Carolina 500 and free admission to the grandstands. Savage Energy Pole Day is set for Saturday May 3rd with the first round of qualifying starting at 10:00 A.M. Tony Stewart will wave the green flag to start the Carolina 500 on Sunday May 4th at 12-noon, LIVE on SPEED.
For more information or to order tickets for the ARCA RE/MAX Series Carolina 500 on May 4th please contact the speedway at (910) 205-8800 or visit its website at www.rockinghamspeedway.com.