Rush to drive Spears Chevrolet truck By Dave Rodman SYLMAR, Calif. (March 5, 1999) Lonnie Rush, an Ohio State University graduate who brings engineering, driving and crew chief experience to the table, has been named the driver for the Spears ...
Rush to drive Spears Chevrolet truck By Dave Rodman
SYLMAR, Calif. (March 5, 1999) Lonnie Rush, an Ohio State University graduate who brings engineering, driving and crew chief experience to the table, has been named the driver for the Spears Manufacturing team for 1999 in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, team spokesman Al Hoffman announced Friday.
Rush will make his debut in the No. 75 Chevrolet owned by California businessman Wayne Spears at the Florida Dodge Dealers 400 on March 20 at the Miami-Homestead Speedway. Hoffman said the team considered a list of drivers "a mile long" before narrowing it down to less than half a dozen who were seriously considered, and it was "not an easy decision to make with all the drivers who were out there."
In the end, Rush, a 32-year-old native of Pickerington, Ohio, had too much on the ball to ignore when the decision was made to replace Kevin Harvick. Harvick, Spears' driver in 1998, left the team following last season to sign-on with Liberty Racing's team in the Porter-Cable Power Tools Ford F-150.
"As we were looking at drivers we kept in mind our original goal for this year -- to win races," Hoffman said. "Bringing on board someone new and inexperienced, we knew we wouldn't be able to go forward with that goal. Lonnie brought a lot of experience and skills and the knowledge he has around the trucks, plus he clicked really well with the group. So we feel like we can still go out there and be successful for 1999 and win some races."
"We're still pinching ourselves to believe this is happening," Rush said from the Spears shop. "This is a real good thing for me and for my career. I've been working hard 11 years to get here. I'm looking at it long term as a new beginning for me with a young team that's hungry and wants to win, like I am. It's a good step in the right direction."
Rush competed in Quarter Midgets as a youngster and won 162 of 244 starts he made in the tiny race cars, including national championships in 1981-82, when he was 14-to-16 years old. Following college he diversified into open competition Late Model stock cars and the American Speed Association's Gran Marque series.
He made his first forays into the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division in 1991 and had experience as a driver, crewman and crew chief with a variety of teams in NASCAR's three top series, including Ricky Craven Motorsports and Elliott-Hardy Motorsports. Rush worked for Elliott's NASCAR Winston Cup Series team for some 15 months from 1995 to 1996 which, after a three-year layoff from the cockpit, led to his return to the competitive seat in 1996 for Elliott in the NASCAR Busch Series. Rush scored a best finish of fourth in a limited number of NASCAR Busch Series starts, in 1992 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
"That experience helped," Hoffman said, "and he brings a lot of good stuff to the table with the technical way that the sport's gone. He has an ability not only to evaluate what 's going on but to resolve what we need to do to fix it. It's a win-win situation for us. He brings to the team some things we needed help with and we'll be able to help him as well."
Rush, who has only 36 total starts in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, attempted to compete in a full campaign in 1998 driving the No. 10 A&G Coal Company/Ohio State University Chevrolet that Rush owned with his father and A&G's Jerry Wharton. He had a career-best fifth-place finish at Indianapolis Raceway Park and finished 11th on three separate occasions. His average finish was 21.8. Rush led several events in 1998, including the series finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
"He had some competitive runs last year and I know (lack of) budget had a lot of restraints to his capabilities as well," Hoffman said. "Here we'll give him what we believe is a class act in the vehicle he'll sit in and go out on the track with and where we wanna go as far as winning races."
Rush agrees that his 1999 stage could serve both him and the Spears organization well. To that end they have already tested at Homestead with a 1998 truck; at California, Texas and Bakersfield, Calif., with a new Silverado; and at the Buttonwillow road course in Southern California to sharpen his road race skills, which have yet to be tested in a truck.
"This is a tremendous opportunity to showcase our talents, and we hope to bring Wayne a victory in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series," Rush said. "A championship is everyone's goal, but we have to be realistic about it and work on it day-by-day and week-in and week-out."
The No. 75 truck had five top-10 finishes with Harvick driving in 1998, when he posted an average finishing position of 16.2. The Spears team also won the 1998 NASCAR Winston West Series championship with the 23-year-old driver known as "The Kid." Hoffman said for the first time in many years, the team would not compete in any races this season save the 25-event NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series schedule.
"This is one of the commitments we made to the team and ourselves, that we would only run the truck series, and by doing that we'd be more apt to be successful with our goal of winning races," Hoffman said. "We did 52 races last year in the two series, using the same people to do it. That kind of pulls on your resources and there is a lot of stress and strain to get everything in top condition to be highly competitive.
"Of course, good success in one area could lead you on to try to be successful in other areas, and Wayne could say tomorrow we'll go race Winston West."
Source: NASCAR Online