This week’s Frontstretch Phone-In is with up-and-coming Busch Series star Aaron Fike, driver of the No. 43 Curb-Agajanian Performance Group entry. Fike, 23, finished a disappointing 28th at Mexico City in his 40th career NBS race, but has had plenty of great finishes to cheer about in his short career. He scored his first top-ten last year at Pike’s Peak, and started 2006 with a front-row qualifying effort at Daytona.
Like many of NASCAR’s biggest stars, Fike’s background is in open-wheel racing. At 18, he became the youngest winner ever in a USAC Silver Crown race. Along with racing all three USAC divisions, his resume also includes the Infiniti Pro Series and the ARCA RE/MAX Series. He has won at almost every level that he has raced, including seven wins en route to the Badger Midget Racing Association Championship in 2002. He sat down with us to talk racing, racetracks, and sibling rivalry with brother A.J., who he has raced at one level or another for ten years.
Frontstretch: You’re running full-time with Curb-Agajanian Performance Group this year. You started out with a great second-place qualifying run at Daytona. What are your team’s expectations for 2006?
Aaron Fike: We had a tough time in the first two races. We just need to get some good runs in, and learn for the future.
FS: What do you hope to take away from your first road course race in a stock car (at Mexico City on March 5th)?
Fike: I said it to (my team) a couple of times that my expectations were to – as far as Daytona and California I thought we would have – we did have top fifteen cars and it just didn’t turn out that way. But as far as my first road course race, we’re just going to go down there, there were a lot of wrecks last year so we’re just going to try to stay out of trouble and to finish the thing, first of all. And then wherever we end up – if we’re top fifteen to top twenty, that would be great. Obviously I want to the best I can, so I’m just being realistic, I guess. Trying to stay optimistic about it.
FS: What’s your favorite track so far on the NASCAR circuit?
Fike: I like Lowe’s. Lowe’s is fun. My favorite track was Pikes Peak, but they took that out. Pikes Peak was my favorite track, probably Lowe’s was second.
FS: They added Martinsville this year instead.
Fike: Yeah"¦(laughs) That sounds like fun"¦
FS: One of your team owners is Mike Curb, who has been around NASCAR for a long time. What’s it like working with him?
Fike: Well, you know he comes to a few races every year and he’s a big supporter to this effort, to our team. He’s got a lot of good artists that he brings around and he usually picks a couple throughout the year that he puts on the car. That’s pretty cool!
FS: You raced USAC before NASCAR so these full-bodied cars are still new to you. How has that transition been?
Fike: I’m still learning, yeah. Every time we go out there, I manage to end up learning from a lot of other people. But I’ve only run 30 stock car races, or 40, or whatever, so I’m still learning every time we go out there, trying to figure out how to get these cars to go around the track.
FS: Tell us a little bit about becoming the youngest USAC Silver Crown winner at 18.
Fike: Well, Jeff Gordon had the record before, and I don’t know, I’ve run really good in open-wheel cars. I still run really good, I feel like if I could go back there right now I could win all the championships, but the opportunity had come up in stock cars, so that’s what we’re doing now. As far as the Silver Crown win, I ran really good when I was 18; that was my rookie year. I think we finished in the top ten in points, we were Rookie of the Year, we won a race, and we finished second like four or five times. I guess I just adapted really well to those cars.
FS: You’ve raced some Indy cars too, haven’t you?
Fike: I’ve done some Indy car testing and a lot of stuff like that. The Infiniti Pro Series is what it was called. I ran that for two years.
FS: So with all that experience, what made you choose stock cars?
Fike: I guess there’s more opportunity in NASCAR-Land than there was in IRL or Indy Car stuff.
FS: You’re running for an independently owned Busch Series Team. What are your feelings on the full time Nextel Cup ownership and drivers in the series? I know a lot of young drivers say they like it because of the experience, but what are your feelings on the matter?
Fike: I don’t know; it’s hard to compete against those Cup teams with their engine programs. Also, the amount of money they’re putting into their programs is a lot more than our budget is. It makes it really competitive; I mean the driver’s standpoint is one thing, but as far as the equipment, their equipment, I think, is a lot more superb than ours. It makes it tough. I mean, it’s a good thing, though, too… it makes the league more competitive, that’s for sure.
FS: You and your brother, A.J., are pretty close in age, and you have pretty much grown up competing against each other. Any sibling rivalry off the track?
Fike: Um, no. I mean we used to have sibling rivalry racing, but not too much off the track. Or on the track anymore, really. We don’t really race against each other any more. We used to run against each other, probably since I was about 15 years old, but it kind of stopped when I started running stock cars. We ran against each other a couple of times last year, but nothing real competitively.
FS: Does having someone like a sibling on the track make you more competitive?
AF: Yeah, because you just want to go around him. When you see him in front of you, you just want to make it go faster and try and go around him quicker. (Laughing) Yeah, you do whatever you can to go around him.
FS: What racing memories will you tell your grandchildren about someday?
AF: I’ve won quite a few different races, like winning the Badger Championship in Wisconsin. There’s been a lot of different moments, I can’t describe just one.
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