MISSION POSSIBLE: J.R. NORRIS & KEVIN PRINCE LOOK TO GAIN LOST SOUTHEAST SERIES GROUND FRIDAY NIGHT AT NASHVILLE SUPERSPEEDWAY DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (June 7, 2005) -- The first three races of the 2005 NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southeast...
MISSION POSSIBLE: J.R. NORRIS & KEVIN PRINCE LOOK TO GAIN LOST SOUTHEAST SERIES GROUND FRIDAY NIGHT AT NASHVILLE SUPERSPEEDWAY
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (June 7, 2005) -- The first three races of the 2005 NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southeast Series season are now in the books although there are a couple of drivers who wish they could go back and start from scratch. Last season J.R. Norris and Kevin Prince were in contention for the Southeast Series championship until the final race, but those two drivers have seen rough starts to this year which has put them down in the point standings a little more than they would prefer.
J.R. Norris heads into Friday night's "Bob Harmon Memorial" Sunbelt Rentals 100 Presented by Federated Auto Parts at Nashville Superspeedway sitting 10th in the Southeast Series standings while Prince is a mere 11 markers behind him in 13th. The race will be run in conjunction with the NASCAR Busch Series and is the first of two consecutive superspeedway visits for the Southeast Series.
Dusty Williams used his first career Southeast Series victory two weeks ago at South Boston (Va.) Speedway to move into a tie for the championship lead with Jason Hogan. While the Williams and Hogan duo is pacing the early season lead, Norris and Prince are looking to make up lost ground after disappointing efforts in the first three races of the year.
"We're down, but not out," Norris says. "The championship can still happen for us. With the way the finishes have been in the first three races, nobody has really been able to get a big lead over anybody else. With three races to go last season, I was more points behind than I am now and I almost won the championship. So considering the fact that we've still got 10 races remaining, I really feel like we're going to have something to say about this championship before the season is over."
Prince agrees with Norris' assessment about it being way too early in the Southeast Series campaign to rule out a championship that won't be decided until late October.
"My season has definitely gotten off on the wrong foot considering the expectations we set for ourselves as a team," says Prince, a Wilmington, N.C. native. "The team has worked hard and the Land O Frost Chevrolet has been good, but we've had some consequences that didn't work in our favor. We've just had a lot of bad luck for it being this early in the year. They say that bad things come in threes and we've had three bad races so I'm hoping that's it.
"It gets very frustrating but we're not quitters. I wasn't raised to be a quitter. I don't quit. To a certain degree, I'd say what we've been through so far has made everybody a lot more hungry and determined."
For Norris, a return trip to the 1.33-mile Nashville track couldn't come at a better time as he seeks to close ground on the Southeast Series championship leaders. Norris scored his first career Southeast Series victory at Nashville Superspeedway one year ago in what he considers one of the biggest wins of his career. Norris' victory came with a special trophy that the late Bob Harmon started in 1991 in the All-American 400 when the legendary racing promoter started giving away a customized guitar to the race winner.
"That win last year meant a lot to me personally," Norris says. "One of the coolest things about winning that race was that I got the guitar that all the winners get for winning at Nashville. That meant a lot because there have been a lot of great drivers that have raced at Nashville that never got the win and the guitar. I was able to get it in my very first start at Nashville which made it even more special to me.
"My dad's got my first guitar and if I win again I'm going to give that one to my crew chief, Richie Wauters, because he's helped my racing career so much. I would not be where I am today without his help and guidance."
Prince, on the other hand, just wants his first career Southeast Series victory in any shape, fashion on form after 90 races and countless near-misses that include four second-place finishes and a fourth-place effort at Nashville last year.
"That would be great to finally win my first Southeast Series victory and it couldn't happen at a better track than Nashville Superspeedway," Prince says. "I just want to win a race. Hopefully it would be like all the divisions I've raced in getting to this point because once I got that first win there'd be several more victories that follow. Once you get that first one out of the way, the other wins seem a little easier to come by. We've been close, but just never able to seal the deal for one reason or another. I really think when we do win it will put a lot of ghosts behind us.
"I don't know if I'd be emotional and start crying, but I'd definitely be happy. It would be a well deserved victory for not only me, but (team owner) Randy Wilson, (crew chief) Jason Greene, all the guys on the team who work so hard as well as our sponsors who have stood by and supported us. All those people deserve to be able to stand in victory lane and hopefully they'll get that chance Friday night at Nashville."
Despite their optimism heading into Nashville, both Prince and Norris know they have to improve on their efforts from the first three races of the 2005 Southeast Series season. Norris started the season off with a 20th place finish at Greenville-Pickens (S.C.) Speedway due to mechanical problems while Prince ended up 11th. Norris was leading in the second race of the season at Houston (Tex.) Motorsports Park until he went for a solo spin off the second turn before finishing 18th. Prince also had problems at Houston and finished 14th.
In the third Southeast Series race at the famed South Boston Speedway, it was Williams taking the win ahead of defending series champion Jeff Fultz who sits third in the standings only seven points in arrears of the top spot. Norris managed his best finish of the Southeast Series season with a third-place effort while Prince was caught up in a late race wreck and finished 16th that set him 129 points behind Williams and Hogan.
"I guess I have to look at it as it could have been a lot worse than the way it's been, but man I just hate to have gotten off to this kind of start," Prince says. "I think we're definitely going to get our season turned around and I can't wait for Nashville because that's such a neat track. We'd never really been that good at Nashville until last year when we finished fourth. So we're really looking forward to Friday night's race and hoping we can at least finish as good as we did last year at Nashville.
"I'd obviously like to move up two or three spots and be in contention to win. We're taking a new car and a new engine, so we should be in pretty good shape and I'm looking forward to it."
Prince admits that it's way too early in the season to consider him out of contention for the Southeast Series championship.
"It's too early to say I can't win the championship, but with the way we've got the season started we are behind the eight-ball," Prince says. "There are still 10 races left and anything can happen. I just want to win races and let the points fall take care of themselves. Anything can happen. We're not out there by ourselves because J.R. has sure had his fair share of bad luck just like I have. We've had bad races and neither of us can really afford to have anymore bad luck."
Norris, in turn, agrees with Prince.
"It's been frustrating because we set our sights so high heading into the start of the year," Norris says. "It kind of gets you down and you start to feel like you've got a monkey on your back. We've had two bad races at Greenville-Pickens and Houston where we had a first- or second-place car but had problems and didn't finish either of those races. We rebounded pretty well a couple of weeks ago at South Boston and finished third so hopefully we've got back on the right track."
"I've got very high hopes heading into Nashville and I'm going to use the same mentality I took into this race a year ago. I've got to be smart and put myself in a position to win at the end of the race. Hopefully we'll run well and be able to get back to victory lane this weekend."