BUSCH: Gus Wasson Rookie of the Year Candidate

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Jan. 27, 2000) Debuting as a candidate for Raybestos Rookie of the Year in the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division, driver Gus Wasson is preparing for his first run at Daytona International Speedway the only way he ...

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Jan. 27, 2000) Debuting as a candidate for Raybestos Rookie of the Year in the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division, driver Gus Wasson is preparing for his first run at Daytona International Speedway the only way he knows how: The old fashioned way.

Wasson is working. Fixating on ways to dissipate his anticipation of the NAPA Auto Parts 300 on Feb. 19 during the heart of Speedweeks 2000, the pilot of the No. 96 Island Oasis Chevrolet Monte Carlo makes a daily pilgrimage to the Petty-Huggins Motorsports race shop, building seats and aligning leg braces for his car.

"Anything that puts me in the shop every day gives me a sense that these things do happen to people," Wasson said. "It's not really nervousness, just a feeling of 'oh, my God, this is my life.' Mostly helping at the shop reassures me that I won't wake up tomorrow and discover it was all a dream. I won't find myself racing on the Sprint Car circuit, scrounging for spare change just to make the next race."

The rookie driver is following the same path as drivers such as Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and John Andretti. Wasson, a native of Bloomdale, Ohio, raced Sprint Cars from 1990 to 1992 at local, grassroots tracks like the Lima Land Speedway.

Upon graduating high school, he made the foray into the All Star Sprint Circuit where he competed for and won the title of All Star Rookie of the Year. After a tour with the Pennzoil World of Outlaws in 1995, Wasson competed in the USAC National Sprint Car Series and won the honor of 1996 rookie of the year.

Throughout 1997, 1998 and 1999 Wasson ran some ARCA Bondo/Mar-Hyde Series races and NASCAR Busch Series races whenever he could find the money or a ride.

"I tried to get in all of the large Busch Series events," Wasson said. "I figured if I could qualify and run well someone had to take note of me. That was my plan of attack, the only plan. I qualified everywhere I went: Bristol, Charlotte, Atlanta. I made the fields and slowly I started to realize people were noticing me."

Island Oasis Chevrolet crew chief Greg Guarry remembers the first time he heard the name, Gus Wasson.

"I was at the May event in Charlotte in '99," Guarry said. "The field is always packed there since a lot of teams running a limited schedule focus on that race to try and lure a sponsor. There were 67 entrants. When the final qualifying session was over I grabbed the lineup list from NASCAR.

"And as I was panning down the names I saw 'Gus Wasson, 36th.' For the next five minutes all I could say was, 'who the heck is Gus Wasson?!?' I was in even more disbelief when he finished 26th."

After team owner Beau Petty recognized Wasson's talent and courted him to drive for the Petty-Huggins Motorsports squad in the 1999 season-closing event at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, Wasson immediately signed with the team for a full run in the NASCAR 2000 NASCAR Busch Series.

Wasson was convinced that every dream he mustered had come true. That is until Petty laid another welcomed surprise in front of him. Wasson would have a drafting partner at the season-opening NAPA 300 in Daytona.

Not only would he have a guaranteed drafting partner, a pivotal asset for restrictor plate races, his partner would be former Pepsi 400 winner Greg Sacks.

In the past, Sacks has endured the distress of a peripatetic sponsorship search much the way Wasson has. The combination of the two drivers creates an interesting pairing of student and teacher and should prove to be helpful to the rookie.

"I can't wait," Wasson said. "The way I see it there will be 41 guys out there wanting to slam me into the wall, and one who won't. One ally is better than none, and the fact that he's won at Daytona gives me the confidence that I'll do okay. Greg is going to make a great sounding board."

The No. 96 Island Oasis team attended NASCAR Busch Series testing at Daytona earlier this week, followed by a stop at the Darlington Raceway for their short track testing en route to home base in Mooresville. The Petty-Huggins Motorsports cavalcade will also test at the Las Vegas.

Guarry chuckles every time he updates Wasson on a testing session or the completion of a specific car.

"You can see the range of emotions run the gamut through him (Wasson)," Guarry said. "He's just so excited and hungry, it makes our jobs a little easier."

Wasson admits he may seem eager to get his Monte Carlo on the track, but that his exuberance will only translate into a hard-driven desire to start and finish well in every race. With the expected count of well over 50 cars entered for the qualifying field at the NAPA 300, Wasson understands sponsors at this level can be discouraged by a lack of success and he intends to make Island Oasis proud.

Having accumulated over 600 races, 23 feature wins, 1 track record and 4 rookie of the year awards, it is unlikely they will be disappointed.

"I won't let this opportunity slip by," Wasson said. "It's everything I ever wanted my whole life -- well, that and a Big Wheel. I guess you can say the Big Wheel isn't important anymore."


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Drivers John Andretti , Tony Stewart , Gus Wasson