BUSCH: Conway debuts for JGR at Bristol

BUSCH: Conway debuts for JGR at Bristol
Mar 20, 2007, 12:40 AM

Z-LINE DESIGNS RACING Kevin Conway Takes Over Z-Line Busch Car at Bristol HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (March 20, 2007) -- California Dreamin' finally turns to racing reality for driver Kevin Conway this weekend as he straps himself behind the wheel of Joe ...

Kevin Conway Takes Over Z-Line Busch Car at Bristol

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (March 20, 2007) -- California Dreamin' finally turns to racing reality for driver Kevin Conway this weekend as he straps himself behind the wheel of Joe Gibbs Racing's (JGR) No. 18 Z-Line Designs Chevrolet for Saturday's Sharpie Mini 300 NASCAR Busch Series race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.

A month ago this weekend at California Speedway, Conway watched from the sidelines as NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series star Tony Stewart wheeled the Z-Line Designs car to an 11th-place finish in the Stater Bros. 300. It was a bittersweet day for Conway as he enjoyed the thrill of seeing the Z-Line sponsorship deal he personally worked so long and hard for take to the track for the very first time. But deep down inside, his mind was already focused on Bristol, where he'll get his first chance to drive the Z-Line Designs Chevrolet at one of the most action-packed venues on the NASCAR circuit.

Saturday's 300-lap event around the high-banked, half-mile concrete oval will be only the seventh career Busch start for Conway, who finished 33rd at Bristol a year ago in the No. 58 Carver Racing entry. But the 28-year-old from Lynchburg, Va., is something of a modern-day racing renaissance man, having left his mark in AMA Motocross, the World Karting Association, USAC Midgets, Late Model Stocks, the American Speed Association, ARCA and NASCAR's West Series since becoming the youngest driver to win a Legends national title at the age of 15. He's also logged thousands of laps at NASCAR tracks all over the country as a test driver for various Nextel Cup teams and as a Richard Petty Driving Experience instructor.

As the newest member of the JGR driver lineup, Conway feels more than ready for his greatest racing opportunity to date. Saturday's Sharpie Mini 300 will be his first of eight scheduled Busch Series events of 2007 in the No. 18 Z-Line Designs Chevrolet, and he's counting on making the most of it. In addition to his vast array of racing experience, Conway credits his marketing degree from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte -- and his ability to use it -- for making this opportunity a reality.

A mutual friend led him to Z-Line Designs CEO Jim Sexton several months ago, and the two began exchanging e-mails as Conway set out to reveal the benefits of using NASCAR to market the highly successful but relatively little-known brand leader in the ready-to-assemble furniture marketplace. After countless presentations, meetings and late nights spent putting all the pieces in place, Conway and Z-Line now find themselves in the elite company of one of racing's most successful organizations.

Riding along with Conway and Z-Line this weekend on the No. 18 Chevrolet -- as it will be all season -- is the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which has grown to be synonymous with Z-Line's sponsorship in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series in recent years. The company hopes to achieve a whole new level of awareness for the organization -- which grants the wishes of terminally ill children -- by reaching out to the NASCAR audience.

Practice and qualifying for this weekend's Sharpie Mini 300 are set for Friday. Race time Saturday is 3 p.m. EDT with ABC-TV's live coverage beginning at 2:30 p.m.

Kevin Conway -- Driver of the No. 18 Z-Line Designs Chevrolet in the NASCAR Busch Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway

Your first start for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) will be at one of the toughest tracks on the circuit -- Bristol Motor Speedway. Did you do something to make JGR mad?

"Ever since JGR told me my first race was going to be Bristol, I wondered what I ever did to J.D. (Gibbs, Team President) to make my first two races Bristol and Dover. Seriously, it's a challenge that I'm very, very excited about. Bristol is a race track that I love, and it's very exciting. You have a 50-50 shot that you're going to come out unscathed. And usually, if you survive, you're going to have a good finish. Going there and knowing that we have the resources of Joe Gibbs Racing behind us, and everything Z-Line Designs has provided for us, it's really exciting because you know you're going to have equipment and a team that's capable of winning the race."

You've raced at Bristol before. Is the track as rough and tough as everyone says it is?

"I think Bristol is worse than what people say it is. Things happen so fast there and your vision is actually limited because of the banking and how tight the corners are. It is a challenge from the driver's standpoint, but it's also one of the few tracks we go to where the driver makes a bigger difference than on some of the mile-and-a-half tracks. You can make a difference even if your car is a little tight or a little loose just by changing some things with your line and the way you drive the track. It's definitely tough, but I think it's a place where you can have a lot of fun. If your car's handling well, you can have a lot of fun."

Short of winning at Bristol Motor Speedway, what are your goals? What do you want to accomplish?

"I was talking to some of the guys at JGR about it and it's tough because you know your equipment is capable of winning. As long as circumstances go our way, I think that we'll have a great day and, ultimately, there's no reason why we should be willing to accept anything outside of the top-five or the top-10. Bristol, again, is one of those race tracks where if you survive and you complete all 300 laps, there's a really good chance that you're going to have a shot at a top-five or a top-10."

How satisfying was California for you to see your sponsorship effort with Tony Stewart behind the wheel? And how satisfying will it be to actually drive with Z-Line Designs as your sponsor and see everything you've worked so hard for come to fruition?

"California was amazing to see everything finally come together and get on the race track, and especially to have someone like Tony Stewart representing Z-Line and helping them break into the sport for the very first time. It was bittersweet. It was very, very exciting. It was awesome. It was a huge sense of accomplishment, but at the same time I wish I was the one that was behind the wheel. As I get ready to go to Bristol, I can't wait because it is the fruition of a lot of hard work and ultimately a lifetime dream of mine to be able to race not only in the NASCAR Busch Series but, more importantly, with a team like Joe Gibbs Racing and a sponsor like Z-Line Designs. It's not too often you get a sponsor that you can get excited about that really kind of fits your lifestyle."


Meet the No. 18 Z-Line Designs / Joe Gibbs Racing Team

Primary Team Members:
Driver: Kevin Conway
Crew Chief: Jason Ratcliff
Car Chief: Leo Thorsen
Engine Builder: Mark Cronquist
Engine Specialist: Mike Johnson
Spotter: Terry Wooten

Over-The-Wall Crew Members:

Gas Man: Brad Rothlin (also serves as shock specialist)
Front Tire Changer: Chris Letourneau
Catch Can Man: Toby Bigelow
Front Tire Carrier: Billy Fredell
Windshield: Ira Duville
Rear Tire Changer: Colin Fambrough
Jack Man: Sean Irvan
Rear Tire Carrier: Billy Plourde

Other Crew Members:

Truck Driver: Dennis Valverde and Rodney Valverde
Tire Specialist: Jason Clements
Engineer: Mike Engstrom
Scorer: Scott Glasgo The Car

Chassis No. 1860: This car was built in late 2005, but didn't race until 2006, where in five outings with J.J. Yeley at the wheel, it earned an average finish of eighth. Its best result came at Charlotte (N.C.) in May, where it started 12th and led two laps before finishing third. Chassis No. 1860 competed at both Nashville (Tenn.) races, where it finished fourth in the April race and 16th in the June race. It also ran at Dover (Del.) in June, where it finished ninth, a result duplicated when Chassis No. 1860 returned to Dover in September. This Saturday's race at Bristol marks Chassis No. 1860's first start of 2007 and sixth overall.


Kevin Conway's Career At-a-Glance

Conway will make his Joe Gibbs Racing debut on Saturday, March 24, driving the No. 18 Z-Line Designs Chevrolet in the NASCAR Busch Series Sharpie Mini 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway. It will be Conway's seventh career Busch Series start and his second at Bristol. Conway's first career Busch start came at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2003, driving the No. 22 Danny Bost Chevrolet to a 33rd-place finish. He drove the No. 58 Carver Racing entry at Bristol a year ago, qualifying 33rd but crashing out of the race on Lap 6. The Sharpie Mini 300 is Conway's first of eight Busch races for Z-Line Designs and JGR in 2007.

* The versatile Conway has a vast array of experience in everything from AMA Motocross, the World Karting Association, Legends cars and USAC Midgets to Late Model Stocks, the American Speed Association and ARCA, to NASCAR's West Series and Busch Series.

* Conway in recent years has been a test driver for various NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series teams and a Richard Petty Driving Experience instructor, logging thousands of laps at NASCAR tracks across the country.

* In 1994 at age 15, Conway became the youngest national champion in the history of the Legends series.

* Conway's first major stock car experience came in ARCA in 2002, driving for Ernie Irvan and George deBidart. He opened with a top-five qualifying effort at Atlanta and went on to lead a majority of the race before mechanical trouble sent him to the sidelines with 20 laps remaining. In his second ARCA start, he came from the back of the starting grid at Charlotte to finish seventh.

* Also during that year, Conway tested extensively for Johnny Benson's No. 10 and Ken Schrader's No. 36 Nextel Cup teams, adding a wealth of big-car experience at numerous tracks.

* In 2004, Conway won the USAC Midget Craftsman 100 at South Boston (Va.) Speedway, driving for Pro-Xtreme Valvetrain Racing. And in 2005, he turned in several impressive performances in the No. 25 BWB Racing USAC Silver Crown Series car.

-credit: jgr

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