BUSCH: St. Louis: Travis Kittleson preview

TRAVIS KITTLESON SETS SIGHTS ON NEW FRONTIER Super Late Model and ASA Veteran Takes on Gateway in No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Busch Series Chevrolet HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (July 18, 2007) -- It's only fitting that a defining moment in Travis ...

Super Late Model and ASA Veteran Takes on Gateway in No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Busch Series Chevrolet

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (July 18, 2007) -- It's only fitting that a defining moment in Travis Kittleson's professional racing career comes in the shadows of the Gateway Arch on the banks of the Mississippi River.

Just as the monument that symbolizes the gateway to the new frontier dating back to the days of the early American pioneers, the 27-year-old short-track and American Speed Association (ASA) stock car racing veteran from Florida hopes someday to be looking back at Saturday night's NASCAR Busch Series Gateway 250 as the night he successfully ventured into previously uncharted territory.

In the opportunity of his racing lifetime, Kittleson will be behind the wheel of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) Chevrolet that, through the first 20 Busch Series events this season, already has a pair of victories, seven top-fives, 13 top-10s and five poles at the hands of NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series veterans Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart, and JGR development driver Aric Almirola.

With the help of his longtime ASA and Super Late Model sponsor Bob Steele Chevrolet of Cocoa, Fla., Kittleson comes to the 1.25-mile, egg-shaped Gateway oval hoping he can help the No. 20 team continue its strong 2007 Busch Series campaign and, at the same time, turn some heads in the Busch Series garage and earn the opportunity to become a NASCAR regular with a top-rate team.

It will be only the third Busch Series start for Kittleson -- both previous starts coming about 280 miles downstream at Memphis, another track located on the banks of the Mississippi -- and the first with a team other than his own. He sold most of the assets in RT Racing in order to fund his efforts to secure a NASCAR ride alongside many young drivers he banged fenders with in ASA and Super Late Model competition since 1999, including Reed Sorensen, David Ragan, Erik Darnell and Danny O'Quinn. It's a risky proposition, to say the least, but Kittleson is banking on a solid racing resume that chronicles his dozens of short-track victories in marquee late model events throughout the Southeast since he embarked on a full-time racing career as a 19-year-old.

He's certainly earned a vote of confidence from the Joe Gibbs Racing camp, which led by crew chief Dave Rogers has worked to prepare Kittleson to more than just survive Saturday night's 250-mile trek around the quirky Gateway layout. Kittleson and crew look to mount a bonafide assault on victory lane, knowing that the equipment is proven, and there's little doubt the driver is up to the task.

The Gateway 250 weekend begins with practice at 7 p.m. EDT Friday. Qualifying is set for 4:30 p.m., Saturday with live coverage on SPEED-TV. Race time is 7:30 p.m., with ESPN2's live coverage beginning at 7 p.m.

Travis Kittleson -- driver of the No. 20 Bob Steele Chevrolet in the NASCAR Busch Series race at Gateway:

You've worked long and hard for this opportunity, and you've given up a lot to get here. Now that it's about to become a reality, how do you feel about heading to Gateway for your first opportunity to drive for a team like Joe Gibbs Racing?

"I'm pumped up. I'm hoping for the Cinderella story. It's the opportunity of a lifetime to get in a Joe Gibbs car. The way the team's been working this year and how the car's been running, regardless of what driver's been in it, it just makes me really excited. I've been hanging out with them and listening on the radio, and (crew chief) Dave Rogers is, by far, probably one of the best leaders I've ever had the opportunity to be around. I've learned from them the last couple of months. I can't tell you how great I feel about knowing that everything I need to perform is going to be there."

With only a couple of NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series races under your belt this season, are you ready to be competitive?

"I feel pretty confident, but at the same time, I've only run two races. The first part of practice, I'm going to be getting some dust off. I'm going to have to learn quickly and get up on the wheel. I'm going to have to get to the point where, like when you're racing often, you do things without thinking. I've got to get to that point again really, really quickly. If I can get to that point, it'll be a perfect scenario. If we unload like they've been unloading all year, and like every time they've been to Gateway, I think there is a good chance that we could win. The odds are against me, but it's there. It's a possibility."

Do you feel like you're expected to just bring the car home, or are you going to be able to actually get out there and race?

"They want me to get the best result. They've got my best result in mind. I've raced for a couple of other teams in the past where that hasn't been the case. I honestly feel we've got a great game plan. First, you focus on a top-10. Then you're not going to try to drive over your head. You're not going to try to prove too much. If we get to the end of the race and we're in the top-10, they said they'll get up there. My first goal is to finish the race. But in their minds, they're going to that race to bring home the hardware. They're going to the track to win. They don't ever go there any other way. That kind of confidence makes me feel comfortable."

Have you discussed strategy with (crew chief) Dave Rogers and the rest of the team, and what might that be?

"We've spent a considerable amount of time talking about what we expect from each other. I've explained my traits, my habits. Dave tried to paint a picture of what I should be expecting in the car, what Denny (Hamlin) wants and what Aric (Almirola) wants, and how we can find the in-between for me. I might automatically just like what Denny likes. I might just automatically like what Aric likes. Or I might not like either of them. Dave's just a super leader. He's got an aura of confidence. He makes you feel very comfortable. He told me he wants me to go there and focus on a top-10, and once we get into the top-10, we'll focus on winning the race. The fact that he can say he can get me in the winner's circle makes me feel good that he believes in me and he's that confident in what he does."

The Car:

Chassis No. 2043: Chassis No. 2043 has always been extremely competitive on the race track. Denny Hamlin has been behind the wheel for all five of Chassis No. 2043's starts and put it on the pole four of the five times he competed with it. In 2006, this chassis raced at The Milwaukee Mile in June where it finished second, Gateway International Raceway in Madison, Ill., in July where it finished third and at the O'Reilly Raceway Park in Clermont, Ind., in August where it finished eighth. Earlier this year, Chassis No. 2043 was an early contender at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, but an on-track incident with the No. 17 of Matt Kenseth resulted in an uncharacteristic 41st-place finish. The only time Chassis No. 2043 started outside the front row was at New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon in June of this year, where it started fifth and finished in the same position.

-credit: -- www.JoeGibbsRacing.com --

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Drivers Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , David Ragan , Denny Hamlin , Aric Almirola , Erik Darnell , Travis Kittleson
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing