WILK REMAINS A FIRM OPTIMIST HEADING INTO DALLAS DALLAS (September 23, 2009) -- Is Tim Wilkerson's glass half-full, or is it half-empty? In terms of points, is holding steady when you're one race into the Countdown a good thing or a ...
WILK REMAINS A FIRM OPTIMIST HEADING INTO DALLAS
DALLAS (September 23, 2009) -- Is Tim Wilkerson's glass half-full, or is it half-empty? In terms of points, is holding steady when you're one race into the Countdown a good thing or a disappointment? It all depends on your viewpoint and inherent optimism (or lack thereof), but the bottom line is that the popular Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang driver began the Countdown 70 points out of first place prior to last weekend's race in Charlotte, and this weekend he will hit the track, at the historic Texas Motorplex, only 72 points out of the top spot. Thanks to a rash of first-round upsets that included five other Countdown drivers, Wilkerson's disappointing opening-round exit didn't do much damage.
Now, with only five races left before the champions are crowned, Wilkerson knows there's less leeway to allow for further stumbles. The Charlotte experience might be seen as a bit of fortunate timing for any team that lost in the first round, or it could be viewed as a missed chance to pick up points on a slew of other contenders, but in the end it was more like a "mulligan" and Wilkerson now has his chance to start again.
"I guess I'll look at it like an optimist, and say we got away with one there," Wilkerson said. "That whole first round was a strange deal for just about everyone, and it was a bad deal for us. But, a couple of hours later we're looking at the points and we're seeing that we're just two more points out of the top spot than we were when we started. Yes, if we would've gotten on a roll we could've done a lot of good, but when you lose in the first round your biggest fear is getting buried and left behind. Instead, a lot of big hitters got left behind with us, so we're all still hanging in there.
"So now it's like 'Okay, start again' for a lot of us. You know, that cool four-wide deal had to be made up first-round losers and I figured they wouldn't even want us in it when you had John Force, Mike Neff, Ron Capps, Del Worsham, and Tony Pedregon all going out in the first round, too. We were honored they asked us, and it was a neat deal to do, but now we have to get back to the important stuff and it does sort of feel like we get a mulligan and get to start again. The big difference, though, is that we have one less race to work with."
At the beginning of the six-race Countdown, much of the conversation about strategy included the basic necessity for a team to win rounds consistently at each stop. Over the course of six races, a consistent team that reaches the semifinals at each event will have a legitimate shot at the championship, but with each passing race in which a team doesn't pick up any round wins, the need for trips to the Winner's Circle becomes more obvious.
"We've already let one get away, so we have to start thinking that just winning a few rounds isn't going to do it," Wilkerson said. "At some point, if you want to make up four rounds of racing on six teams that are ahead of you, you're going to not only have to get to some final rounds, you're going to need to win a race or two. If you're banking on a whole bunch of upsets in round one again, like we had in Charlotte, you're dreaming. All of these Countdown teams are too good to keep tripping up like that, ourselves included.
"With all that in mind, Dallas becomes pretty critical, I'd say. We need to qualify well, we need to win some rounds, and we need to start the process of getting around some people in the standings. We're not going to jump all the way to the top in one weekend, but we need to start picking some people off, one by one. What we need to do is get ourselves in contention in the next couple of races, at least to where we're close enough to get to the top with one good race. Right now, we're 72 points back. If we're less than 40 points back going into Richmond (the fourth race in the six-race Countdown) we'll have as good a shot as anyone."
The double-edged sword that slices into a points deficit can be operated two ways. Contending teams can hope to race non-contending teams and then rely on help in other match-ups, or they can face off against each other, in make-or-break rounds. One is perhaps less stressful; the other more direct.
"Actually, all the rounds are stressful because there's nobody out here that you look forward to racing," the LRS driver said. "We just got our butts spanked by a non-Countdown team that had two round wins all season, so I respect every team out here. But, in reality, you know it might be a little easier to face a 14th or 15th-ranked car in the opener, as opposed to lining up against Force, or Capps, or Ashley (Force Hood) right away.
"But, at least you know your fate is in your own hands when you do face the other Countdown teams. You don't need other teams to help you out by beating other guys for you. I guess, as hard and as stressful as it is, I'd just as soon face off with the top teams every round. If we're good enough, we'll win. If we win, we'll move up fast."
That's definitely a glass half-full outlook. Bring on the competition, strap in, hold on, and may the best team win.