Compton steps into Melling Ford at Rockingham By Dave Rodman ROCKINGHAM, N.C. (Oct. 19, 1999) NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship contender Stacy Compton will drive the WCW/Melling Engine Parts Ford in this weekend's NASCAR Winston Cup...
Compton steps into Melling Ford at Rockingham By Dave Rodman
ROCKINGHAM, N.C. (Oct. 19, 1999) NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship contender Stacy Compton will drive the WCW/Melling Engine Parts Ford in this weekend's NASCAR Winston Cup Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400 at North Carolina Speedway. Team owner Mark Melling said Tuesday if he had his way; Compton would drive the car for the final four races of the season. Although Compton has a limited amount of seat time in NASCAR Winston Cup cars, he is in his third season in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, where he has two career victories and 11 top-5 finishes in 24 races this season. He tested several Dodge trucks at the 1.017-mile Rockingham oval some three months ago.
"I loved the track," said Compton of the session that was conducted by the Dodge factory as a 'chassis seminar' with four of its drivers. "It's a neat place to run at and I would love to run the trucks here. At that time, though, I didn't have a clue I would be driving a Cup car here at any time soon."
Although Compton said his first priority is scoring his first NCTS win of the season at California, Melling was more straightforward.
"We want him in the car for the rest of this year, next year and the year after, if things work out," Melling said bluntly. "You always go into these things optimistically, but I think the world of him after meeting him and being somewhat familiar with him."
For his part, Compton, who has been one of the standard bearers for Dodge's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series program, along with third place point man Dennis Setzer, had hoped there might be a place in Chrysler's recently announced NASCAR Winston Cup 2001 program for him. He said the latest deal would move ahead slowly.
"I think it's going to be a race by race deal, at this point," Compton said. "Mark had approached me, but I didn't want to take a chance of messing up the points championship we were running for. Now, we're pretty much out of the hunt after Texas last weekend, so I'm ready to do this.
"It's a great opportunity for me, and I really appreciate Mark Melling and Cartoon Network, as well as Impact Motorsports and RC giving me the chance to do this. Certainly the seat time doesn't hurt."
Melling said his latest driver wouldn't hurt the team's efforts, either.
"We're looking for a sponsor, trying to put some interesting things together and trying to get that settled down and having a driver locked-in certainly can't hurt. Stacy is a tremendous spokesperson, he's well-liked and I think he can drive, too."
Melling has tried a couple different drivers in his car since late summer, when the team parted ways with its regular driver, Jerry Nadeau, in order to prepare for the future after Nadeau announced he would leave the team at the end of the season to drive Hendrick Motorsports' No. 25 Chevrolets in 2000.
Since then Steve Grissom and Rich Bickle have driven the car. Grissom drove three races with a best finish of 30th and Bickle was in the car five times with a best finish of 20th.
"Right now if it feels like good chemistry I want this driver rotation thing to stop," Melling said. "It just doesn't work. Sometimes you have to go with somebody younger, to make something happen. If we get the thing to where it can work maybe Stacy will be a part of it."
The Cartoon Network, which has been Melling Racing's sponsor for the last two seasons, informed Melling earlier this season that it would not return in 2000, opting to go to another team where it could get some help as the primary sponsor, Melling said.
"When you're dealing with sponsorship you always feel like you're close - it's a standard line for us guys who are looking -- but we're working hard at it," Melling said. "We had a great relationship with The Cartoon Network folks and they were a great relationship. I have some good friends over there and when you have that things probably went OK."
Compton and Melling had been having discussions about the ride for some time, but Compton's first commitment was to his RC Cola Dodge program in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Until the last couple races, Compton had a solid shot at the title but now he is in fourth in the point standings, 135 points behind leader Greg Biffle with Jack Sprague and Setzer in between he and the leader.
"Stacy really wants to win the race in California and he didn't want to do anything to upset his RC Deal, and that shows he" a classy driver," Melling said. "It's a rare day that Biffle, Sprague and Setzer will all have enough trouble for him to take the championship, so he's ready to give this a shot."
"Hopefully we'll do the last four races together even if we have a hiccup this weekend," Melling said. "I really don't think it's fair to make any kind of judgement after only one race."