Compton has a definite role in this rookie race By Marty Smith CONCORD, N.C. (Jan. 12, 2000) Earlier this week, Stacy Compton felt like a rookie for the first time in recent memory - and with good reason. The Virginia native was largely ...
Compton has a definite role in this rookie race By Marty Smith
CONCORD, N.C. (Jan. 12, 2000) Earlier this week, Stacy Compton felt like a rookie for the first time in recent memory - and with good reason. The Virginia native was largely rendered useless on the race track for the first time in recent memory at the optional Ford test for the newly minted NASCAR Winston Cup Taurus at Talladega Superspeedway. Compton's No. 9 Melling Racing Kodiak Ford team tested at the famed 2.66-mile oval on Monday and Tuesday, but since Compton had never so much as cranked a NASCAR Winston Cup Series machine at the track he was unable to relay necessary changes to his team.
Compton talked about the experience Wednesday when the UAW-GM Motorsports Media Tour presented by Lowes Motor Speedway visited the Melling Racing shop.
"I've never felt as useless as a driver as I did the past two days," Compton said jokingly. "The past two days I really couldn't give much input, because everything the team did felt great. Nothing really affected the car very much. But, that's part of the learning curve in Winston Cup, it's not small by any means."
This is nothing new to Compton. He's gotten used to steep learning curves. Following a highly successful 1998 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series season, he switched from Ford to Dodge with David Hodson's No. 86 RC Cola Impact Motorsports team - with flying colors, mind you.
In 25 starts in Hodson's Dodge, Compton notched 12 top-5s and 17 top-10s. And, oddly enough, in five superspeedway races last year, he sat on the Bud Pole twice, started on the outside pole at Michigan, started third at California and fifth at the second Texas race. His finishes were no slouch either - four top-10s and a top-5.
Such stellar success lifted Compton to the NASCAR Winston Cup Series ranks for NASCAR 2000, and in turn handed him the steepest learning curve of his career. Compton will have a definite role in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year race and he relishes the challenge.
"Traditionally, short tracks have been my strong point and speedways have been my weakness, but last year we kinda changed that," Compton said. "We sat on the pole last year at superspeedways. I was raised up on short tracks, but the past couple speedway races have been great.
"At first, they were a bit intimidating. Until I got a feel for trucks, I lacked confidence, but there toward the end my confidence built to the point where I was confident. Hopefully, that'll happen in the Cup cars too, but they don't seem as easy."
When first approached about the move to NASCAR Winston Cup, Compton was unsure whether or not he wanted the ride. But, after some coaxing from team owner Mark Melling, he realized it was the chance of a lifetime.
"I didn't want to go to Cup just to go to Cup, because I didn't want to be looking for a new ride after eight races," Compton said. "Mark approached me and I turned him down at first. I had to look real hard at what I wanted and what they had.
"I wouldn't sign unless I knew we had a sponsor, and Melling couldn't land a sponsor without a driver, so it was really a catch-22. Then Mark told me he'd run the whole season out-of-pocket if he had to, he ensured me I'd have a ride. jjj "After hearing that, I decided I would sign because I felt comfortable, like the team would be there. Then, we landed a sponsor that's been in the series for quite some time and knows what it's all about. Plus, this is the second oldest Ford team out there and that meant a lot to me."
To begin the preparation process, the No. 9 team tested both at Talladega and at New River Valley Speedway in Radford, Va., one of the many short tracks Compton dominated a decade ago in Late Model Stock Cars.
"Both tests went real good, but we need to be better than we are for sure," he said. "We're a middle of the pack team right now, but we need to be much better. Even so, we're really happy with how it's all gone so far. The results have been marginal."
Maybe, but when not on a superspeedway, the car isn't much different from the truck. However, the superspeedways are different animals completely.
"If you would've blindfolded me at Rockingham last year, I couldn't have told you the difference between the 9 car and the 86 truck," Compton said. "Now that I've been on the superspeedway with the car, they have much more downforce so you don't have to use nearly as much brake.
"I only had to lift once at Talladega, but after that it took me two laps to get back up to speed. That shows how much getting used to the restrictor plates will take. I have to remember not to lift. I'm still trying to figure out what it takes to get it done with these (restrictor) plates and when to get outta the gas."
Although superspeedways seem to be the chief thorn in Compton's side at this point, he has six other potent obstacles as well on his road to a potential rookie title: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Scott Pruett, Mike Bliss, Jeff Fuller and Dave Blaney.
"This is probably the toughest rookie class in quite awhile," he said. "Obviously, I'm glad I didn't have to run with Tony Stewart last year -- what he did was unreal -- but this year with Little E, Kenseth, Scott Pruett and those other guys, it's gonna be real tough to win that thing. It'll be real tough for any of us."
Being a rookie is real tough - especially when you haven't felt like one in awhile.