There’s no denying it. Any race that runs Charlotte’s crown oval is a very big deal. To any stock car racer from the Southeast, nay, in the country, Lowe’s Motor Speedway truly is a place of significance.
And that’s no different for Peyton Sellers, a driver who knows a thing or two about racing in the sport’s backyard (the name of his team, Cardinal Motorsports, was born out of respect for his Virginia/North Carolina racing roots). Having grown up in Danville, Va., a literal stone’s throw from the Virginia/North Carolina border, and cut his teeth on some of the region’s most renown short tracks, Lowe’s Motor Speedway has been on his radar long before his schedule for 2009 was announced.
Says Sellers, “[Racing at LMS is] a dream come true.”
“I grew up going there and watching races and I’ve always wanted to race there. It’s really cool to be able to follow up that dream.”
“I used to race go-karts there as a kid. I used to walk up to the big track as a kid and man, it was so cool. And at that point it was so intimidating for me to have a chance to go there and race… I was seven, eight, 10 years old.”
While the reverence held for this speedway may not have changed in Sellers’ eyes, the intimidation factor he described as a kid seems to be long gone. Because speaking to him, you’d never know that he was outside the Top 35 and faced with the prospect of having to race into a show whose entry list has swelled to 51 entries.
When asked about the qualifying prospects for Saturday’s 300-miler, Sellers was quick to respond “I don’t see anything wrong right now. I think we’ll be OK, I really do.”
“We’ll get out there, put in the good Lord’s hands, put in a good solid lap and it’ll be alright.”
Sellers’ has an excellent reason to feel good about his chances of making this field: A new racecar.
“This is a completely new car coming together [for Lowe’s],” says the driver of the No. 77. “Not a new chassis, but a new front-end clip, new rear clip and new body. So it’s basically a brand new car, with a new R07 engine from Childress.”
“I feel like this car will be better than what we ran at Richmond.”
Considering that the car Cardinal Motorsports ran at Richmond qualified in the top 15 and finished 19th in only the second Nationwide Series start in their history, that’s an optimistic outlook. But it’s certainly justified… because when they’ve tinkered with their cars, it’s done nothing but good. The team scored their top-20 finish at Richmond running a car they rebuilt following a practice crash at Texas. Prior to the wreck, that same car was in the top 10 on the practice charts.
Great results for an upstart operation, but there’s a surprising amount of support present for this team. The team is running old Richard Childress Racing cars and ECR motors (not surprising, considering that Sellers’s longtime friend Todd Berrier helped pair the young driver with co-owner Will Spencer). Kevin Harvick Inc. is hanging the bodies, and Triad Racing Technologies is doing the front-end geometry on the No. 77 machines.
Says Sellers, “We’ve got a good combination and great people working to make stuff happen.”
And so far they’re making stuff happen at Lowe’s. After being mired around 40th for much of Nationwide Series Happy Hour, the team jumped into the top 30 at session’s end. Not flashy, but that improvement moved the No. 77 car from being on the bubble to being solidly on-track to make the field despite the most competitive entry list the Nationwide Series has seen in 2009.
That’s great news for Cardinal Motorsports, but for Sellers, that’s greater news for his stature as a driver prospect. Because despite being among the youngest owners in the Nationwide Series (a fact he’s deliberately not publicizing; “Will is listed as the owner… it’s his shop that we use”), his goal is the same as every other aspiring racer in the NASCAR ranks: A development contract.
“What I really need to do right now is get a ride. Gibbs, RCR, whoever it may be. Cardinal Motorsports is definitely here for the long haul, we’ve structured it from the ground up to be a long-term team, but I feel like I’m better suited to be driving [for] someone else and keep Cardinal going on the side with development drivers.”
It’s not hard to understand why Sellers has bigger teams… and being a full-time NASCAR driver…first and foremost on the brain. The youngest driver to ever win the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national championship, there’s no questioning that there’s talent behind the wheel every time he takes to the track. But for now, with the economy making dollars, and thus development contracts, harder to come by, Sellers is fortunate to be in the situation he’s in with Cardinal Motorsports. For despite being only 25 years old, he and his team are demonstrating perhaps better than anyone in the NASCAR ranks how to make limited resources work: Rather than biting off more than they can chew, they’re sticking to a partial schedule.
According to Sellers, “Our goal with Cardinal is not necessarily to take it to full-time status [because] I think we can put more emphasis and prepare better cars for 15 races than we could 35 races a year.”
In a season that has seen all three of NASCAR’s top series littered with operations trying to go full-time with next to no money or resources… and having no results to show for it… it’s hard not to admire the commitment of Cardinal to focusing on the races they can actually compete in. Further, the team has proven more than willing to accommodate Sellers’ desire to be hands on with everything regarding the operation of his team.
Says Sellers, “I’m in the shop working day in and day out. I’ve got an office, I help call the shots, I’m a part of it.”
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a driver than enjoys working with sponsors either (Sellers taped this interview from a Statesville, N.C. Southern States location that he was appearing at). When asked about his role within Cardinal Motorsports and the opportunities the ride was presenting him, one of the first things out of Sellers’ mouth was “I enjoy doing sponsor stuff.”
This gratitude and pleasure to work with a corporate sponsor is perhaps the reason that SFP took the jump from the Camping World East Series to the Nationwide ranks with Sellers despite the tough economic climate. And it’s also perhaps the reason why they’re jumping into NASCAR in a big way.
“At Richmond they [SFP] had 200 guests. They’re doing hospitality, they’re bringing a show car, they’re bringing a simulator. They’ve jumped on pretty heavy, I’ll be honest with you.”
“For whatever reason they’ve been really good to me.”
That “whatever reason” Sellers refers to isn’t hard to put a finger on: they’ve got a talented driver carrying their colors.
When Sellers was asked what would constitute a successful weekend for he and his team this weekend, he responded “Finish better than 19th. That’s where our last finish was, and you’re no better than your last finish.”
Considering where this team and driver are in terms of development, based off their last finish, Sellers and this team are pretty damn good.