Beth Lunkenheimer · Thursday September 19, 2013
Welcome back to Harry Scott, Jr.‘s “Owner Diary.” This week, Scott fills us in on Kyle Larson’s upcoming move to the Sprint Cup Series, James Buescher’s potential for back-to-back championships, his purchase of Phoenix Racing and so much more.
Plenty of things have happened since we had our last update. Kyle Larson has been driving for us in the Nationwide Series, and next year he’s headed to the Sprint Cup Series with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. I’m very excited about it. I think there’s a lot of questions about whether Kyle is ready, and there was question as to whether Justin Allgaier was ready. After seeing what Justin was able to do last weekend, I think Kyle will be just fine. I think he’s ready — he’s mature enough. At the beginning of the year, the goal was just to finish all the laps, get him some experience at those tracks and maybe have top-15 finishes. We’ve worked well beyond that. It’s been a very short period of time, but it feels like it’s been longer than it has. Now, he’s getting to go to some of these places a second time, and he’s progressed extremely well.
Let me just give you a quick story about how cool the kid is. Last week at Chicagoland, he had his left rear tire blow out. He was running third and came in; they made adjustments and he had a tire rub. Eventually, it cut his left rear tire. When that happens, all the shrapnel just goes all over the cockpit. It’s like having a grenade go off in the cockpit because it tears the fender and crush panel off; then, he’s exposed to the flapping rubber.
Kyle went through that; he was running third and he pulled into his pit. They started trying to repair the car in the pit. The stall ahead of his was Nelson Piquet’s, who was sponsored by Hooters, and they had Hooters girls sitting up on the box. Larson is sitting there in the pit box looking at the Hooters girl while they were working on his car, and NASCAR told them they had to go behind the wall to finish working on it. In the midst of all of that — running third, getting beat up by the tire, sitting on pit road — he still had his sense of humor. He said, “I’m fine working on it right here. The view is a lot better here than it is in the garage. Those Hooters girls look pretty good.”
It was comical; at that point, I was down on the No. 31 box [Justin Allgaier] and I just started dying laughing. Everybody was just looking at me like I was crazy because they had no idea what I was laughing about.
He’s a racer for sure. In fact, I have another story for you about him. When we went to Atlanta, I rode my Harley up there. I didn’t want to ride all the way home to Hilton Head Saturday night. The race was over, I had been back to the coach, taken a shower and gotten ready to go to bed because I was worn out. I got a text from Kyle asking if I was still at the track. I asked him what he needed, and he said he needed a place to stay. There were no rooms available and he didn’t want to sleep in his car. We made the sofa up for him. We got up together at 6 in the morning, and I said, “If you get up at six in the morning to fly to California for a race, you are a racer, especially as much as you like to sleep.” That’s because his nickname is “nap time.” If there’s 15 minutes between something he’s gotta do, he’s up in the lounge and he’s out. Sometimes I’m afraid we’re going to lose him on a red flag, so that’s why we keep talking to him on red flags.
But the bottom line is he’s a good kid and he’s ready.
Moving forward, James Buescher grabbed the win in Iowa a couple weeks ago, and he’s been gaining on Matt Crafton in the standings for the last few races as well. If you look at James and his team over the last three years, you’ll see why I think he’s got a good shot at catching Crafton for the championship. Two years ago, before he won the title, they didn’t even qualify for Phoenix and made a run to almost win it; as it is, he wasn’t that far out at the end of the year. Last year, if you look at their performance, they also came on strong in the later part of the year. They seem to be doing that same thing again this year, although Matt Crafton’s performance has been unbelievable.
Crafton is going to be tough to catch, but I have full confidence that James can do it.
Speaking of the Truck Series, Miguel Paludo’s black flag at Chicagoland on Friday is a tough question. It’s a judgment call on NASCAR’s part. NASCAR does not have the benefit of being in Miguel’s seat on that restart to see what happened in front of him and why he had to come out of his lane. From what I understand, they penalized him for coming out of his lane and not for passing the 3 (Ty Dillon). Miguel did go to the hauler to talk to Chad (Little, CWTS Director) and Chad explained it to him. I’m not sure that Miguel completely agrees, and while I think he’s disappointed — as we all are — it’s one of those situations where it’s a judgment call. NASCAR does the best they can do with the facts they have at the time.
There’s no official instant replay and it’s hard to tell all of the circumstances that surrounded it. I think NASCAR made the best decision they could make with the information that they had. The good news is that it was early enough in the race, and I think NASCAR addressed a tweak to the restart rule that I’m really in favor of. You still have to maintain your line, so it doesn’t necessarily solve Miguel’s situation, but it definitely helps out on the front row at the very least. I’m hoping the rule will help smooth out the restarts a little bit.
We’re still working on our plans for next season. We have not made a definite decision on James — he still has the option of doing Trucks or Nationwide. If a Cup opportunity came along for him, I’m sure he would consider that, too. His options are still wide open, and we are right in the middle of negotiating our deals and getting those deals signed. It’s interesting because the spots seem to fill up starting with the K&N Series, then Trucks, then Nationwide, so it seems to go from the lower series up to the top series. Nationwide seems to be the last thing we fill.
We do know that Larson will be back in our Nationwide car next year. He won’t be running for the championship, but we do know he’ll be running as many races as he can in a ride shared with someone else for weekends the two series’ schedules conflict. I don’t know who that other person is going to be. It might be another developmental driver that Ganassi wants to check out, or it could be one of our drivers. Developing talent is our niche. Dylan Kwasniewski is leading the K&N points right now, so hopefully we’ll be able to move him up either to Trucks or directly to Nationwide next year.
Chase Elliott has been rumored as a driver for our stable next year, and I think they’re going around doing their due diligence. This year, we provided the Trucks for Chase and Hendrick staffed the crew, set up the trucks, and ran them. Those Trucks he’s been running are Turner Scott trucks, and it’s a really good collaboration between us and Hendrick, and a way for us to give back to Hendrick for as much as they do for us. I would hope that if Chase ends up in a Truck that he ends up with us; if he ends up in anything, I hope he ends up with us. He’s a great driver and we think a lot of Bill, too.
This weekend, Jeb Burton is making his Nationwide Series debut at Kentucky Motor Speedway, and he’s very excited. Originally, when we did his driver contract, we gave him the option to do some Nationwide races. We wanted to see how he did in the Trucks and they wanted to see how he did in the Trucks before we threw Nationwide at him. He’s ready for it, and we’re really excited about seeing what he can do this weekend at Kentucky. He should be good in the Nationwide car — he tested well and he’s going to be a force in the Nationwide Series one day. He’s got that natural talent in his DNA.
Right now, I’m sitting at Phoenix Racing. We’re fortunate enough to be in a position that we have secured substantial sponsorship for next year and we know we’ll be running full-time. We know we’re going to be able to raise the bar and continue to be increasingly more competitive. There’s enough sponsorship where we’ll be able to make the investments in infrastructure and people and those kinds of things to be more successful, with an eye towards a longer-term goal of being a championship contender. We will more than likely have a single driver in the seat next year, but we may occasionally run a second Cup car in select races, which will obviously be with a different driver.
James (Finch) has expressed an interest in running some races and partnering on some races as well. He doesn’t want to totally get out; he just wanted to spend some more time with his eight-year-old, and frankly, I think he was just burnt out from attending a race every weekend for the last however many years. This year, we’re probably going to run Larson in the No. 51 some to give him Cup experience, and we’ve got Michael McDowell in it this weekend; we’re excited about that. We’ll have Ryan Truex in the car at Dover. I think Dover will be a good one for him. He should have a really good shot to show what he’s made of.
There was concern on whether my time with TSM would get diluted with the purchase of Phoenix Racing, but it doesn’t change my role or my focus with the team at all. I think the guys around the shop will still tell you that they’re learning that anything that makes me more involved in racing helps us all. The more I learn and the more I’m exposed to, the more I can be of a help to the guys that work for us when it comes to giving them what they need and understanding what they need.
Justin Allgaier made his Cup debut at Chicagoland last weekend, and he’ll be back for Charlotte and for Talladega with BRANDT Agricultural as his sponsor. Everybody at the shop — myself included — were very impressed with his first race. He showed he deserved to be there. Both times he spun, he had help and he did a great job keeping it off the wall and keeping his mind in the game to continue on. I think with Justin and the equipment we had, if he hadn’t had those spins, we were probably a 22nd to 24th-place car, which isn’t bad at all for your first Cup start.
I’ll tell you a quick story about the challenge that we had getting him ready. Friday before the first practice, I had a media member ask if Justin was inside. When I said I was pretty sure he was, they asked if he could come out and speak with them for a minute. I went into the hauler to find Justin holed up with the Hendrick engine tuner; I was going to tell Justin that there was a media member looking for him.
When I heard what they were talking about, I figured it was a good idea not to bother them right at that moment. I went back outside and explained to the media member that as soon as the engine tuner finished teaching Justin how to start the car, I would send him out. That’s what they were going over. They were going over how the fuel-injected engines start, how you have to reset them and everything else.
We’re talking about a driver that had never sat in a Cup car and didn’t even know how to start it.
Justin finished 27th and I think he did really well. He proved he deserved to be there. There were a couple runs where he was too tight and he just had to hang on until we could get him adjusted and fixed up. I was really impressed. I think he had a great time — you could hear it in his voice. I think BRANDT was impressed. They had over 600 people at the racetrack, and they were celebrating their 60th anniversary as a company. It’s a family-owned company — Rick Brandt, the CEO is second generation, but both his father and his aunt who founded the company were there, so that was pretty neat.
I think we’ve covered just about everything we’ve needed to for this week. I’m excited about Jeb’s debut this weekend. I won’t be able to be there for it since I’ll be in Loudon. The K&N kids will race there on Saturday, so I’ll be there for them and the Cup race on Sunday.
Connect with Beth!
Contact Beth Lunkenheimer
©2000 - 2008 Beth Lunkenheimer and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!