Over five years removed from a third-place finish in NASCAR’s Daytona 500 as a rookie, Scott Wimmer hopes the third time’s the charm one day as he works to get back towards his Sprint Cup dream. After a two-year Cup partnership with Bill Davis dissolved at the end of 2005, Wimmer spent a year with Morgan-McClure before building a second career in the Nationwide Series with Richard Childress Racing. In two years of running a limited schedule with the team’s No. 29 car, the Wisconsinite won once and collected 27 top-10 finishes in positioning himself to move back up to the Cup Series in 2009.
But the best-laid plans suddenly began to fall apart. RCR not only passed over Wimmer for a spot on their Cup roster, but they released him on the Nationwide side in favor of Stephen Leicht. That’s left the 33-year-old piecing together a full-time schedule this season, running the majority of his races with Key Motorsports’ No. 40 and a handful with JR Motorsports’ No. 5. Now, with sponsorship scarce even Saturdays are in question for one of the sport’s underrated talents, with Wimmer a free agent and looking for virtually anything to keep him running full-time in 2010. He talks about that uncertain future, the financial differences between top-tier and bottom-tier teams in the series, and whether a full-time reunion with Morgan-McClure could be in the cards one day in the latest edition of our popular Beyond the Cockpit series.
Bryan Davis Keith, Frontstretch: You’re back in the No. 40 car for the rest of the year. You had a rough start, a lot of DNQs – but now you’re in the top 30 and running better. Talk about how this team’s progressed and what your role in that has been.
Wimmer: It has progressed a lot. This whole deal got started about a week before Daytona. Mr. Key bought a couple of speedway cars from RCR. Went down there [to Daytona] and made the race, then had a couple we didn’t qualify for. But we’ve made big gains. I think we’re 22nd in the points now; we’ve made up a lot of ground [over the course of] the year, and that’s a major thing. It takes more than a year to build a team, and I feel like we’ve done a real good job. We haven’t been together but eight months, but we’ve built these cars to where we’re steadily in the top 20. We just need to get a little bit better to get in that top 10.
Keith: Where is the equipment for this outfit coming from?
Wimmer: We’ve actually got a lot of different stuff floating around. When we started the season, they had a couple of cars from the old, abandoned Ginn Racing team, a couple cars from RCR… of course, we wrecked a few in between, so we’re trying to get those repaired. We’ve kind of got a little bit of everything, and I think that’s one of the things we’ve been facing. We need to get our cars narrowed down and get some consistency in them. Get the same parts in them, same pieces, so when we go to the racetrack we know what we’re working with each and every week. We’ve been working really hard on that, been working really hard on the motor program, trying to get that [in order]… today’s racing, with the plates we run on these cars, every single [bit of] horsepower is worth a lot on the track.
Keith: You’ve shared this ride this year. Has that impacted the way the team has progressed?
Wimmer: Yeah, a little bit. We’ve been good, though, because we’ve been able to get a lot of different points of view. Aric Almirola drove the car, and Mike Bliss has driven the car, and we’re all kind of stuck in the same spot. We’ll have a real good run of 12th or we’ll finish 21st. And that’s where we land. So, we need to get better. Both guys have been real helpful when I’ve been off running the No. 5 car, jumping in and giving real useful information to get the car better. Our main objective the first half of the year was to gain points. Now, we’ve done that.
Keith: As you said, this season you’ve also driven the No. 5 car. You’ve been on both sides of the garage this year – how does this new operation compare to JR Motorsports on the other side? Where does Key Motorsports stack up?
Wimmer: Well, it is still a standalone team without any factory support. So they need a lot to get to an RCR, JGR or JR Motorsports level. But they’ve got people that work real hard. I’ve been able to pull some resources from teams I’ve been with that have really helped us. And we’ve got sponsorship. We’ve got a great sponsor with StopRepairBills.com, and have had a few other deals during the year with a lot of companies. We’re working hard to nail something down for Key Motorsports next year and get this team back to where they need to be.
Keith: Talk about next year. Are you going to be here?
Wimmer: I’m not sure where I’m going to be. We’re working on a couple different things, trying to figure out where I stand. We’re not sure on sponsorship or anything. It’s tough, and everything’s been coming down to December or January for me [in recent years], so I’ve got to wait a little longer to find out where I’m going to race.
Keith: You did get a shot to drive the No. 5 car for JRM. What is your relationship like over there, and is there any chance we could see you there in 2010?
Wimmer: I’m not sure yet, it’s the same deal. We lost Fastenal’s sponsorship, they’re moving on. Trying to put things together. I really enjoyed racing with those guys, wish I could have raced a little more consistent over there. At the beginning of the year we ran real well, then we dropped off at the end of the year. That team wasn’t running for points at all this year, so that was real tough on them. But if the right opportunity arises, we’ll be able to put together some races, and hopefully I’ll get to race over there some more. They’re a great organization… Brad [Keselowski]’s been in the top five in points every year he’s been over there.
Keith: You’ve been in Cup before… now, you’re back to Nationwide racing. Is getting back to Cup your ultimate goal?
Wimmer: It is my ultimate goal. I’d love to be Cup racing, I made a start for Morgan-McClure Motorsports earlier this year at Bristol. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of positions over there open right now, and it looks like they’re going to lose some more teams next year. So I’ve just got to keep hammering along. I’m really comfortable in the Nationwide Series, and I helped win an owners’ championship with RCR in 2007. I know a lot of the officials, a lot of the people in the Series. That’s the main thing, is feeling comfortable… and I feel comfortable in this Series. Hopefully, [running] it will get me to where I’m in Cup again [someday]. I feel like I need another good shot there, and hopefully, that opportunity will arise.
Keith: Where you’re at right now, compared to a Cup option coming about where you wouldn’t be able to race the distance every week… is it if you get a Cup ride, you’re going to take it, or does it need to go the distance?
Wimmer: I’d have to run [the distance]. I’m not much for getting in the race and parking it after the first pit stop. You know, if it comes to that I’ll probably find something else to do. Ultimately, I’m a competitor. I want to be out there each and every week, I want to be competing for wins and championships. Those cars, I know what they’re trying to do, they’re trying to survive these tough times and keep teams intact. But, for me I need to be out there racing.
Keith: MMM, you left them in the middle of the season you competed for them full-time, but you’ve kept that relationship together. What’s going on over there, and how have you kept that relationship together?
Wimmer: I’m not really sure what’s going on over there. We started that race at Bristol, they had a local company that came on board. Made that race, ran the whole race, and that was exciting. Some of the greatest people I ever drove for… I really like the McClures and Tim Morgan and everybody up there. They just got caught in the same slump, they can’t find sponsorship dollars, and they’re not going to run their car unless they have the right amount of money to do it. It’s a shame to see them out of the sport. They’ve got a long history in this sport; but ultimately, they need to find the sponsorship dollars to do it. If they don’t find anything real soon, I’m afraid they’re going to have to shut down, and that’d be a shame.
Keith: You’ve raced Nationwide a while. Are there any issues out there, be it the new car or there being so many start-and-parks out there, that NASCAR needs to address they aren’t addressing?
Wimmer: I think they need to get this series kind of on its own. You see it in the Truck Series: you’ve got Ron Hornaday, Mike Skinner, a lot of those drivers that were in this Series and the Cup Series that have made a home there, they race for the championship and they put on great races each and every week. Down here, we’ve got so many Cup drivers out here each and every weekend in the Series that I think it takes away from guys trying to run it full-time and run for the championship. I won the 2007 owners’ title, me and Jeff Burton, and that was the last time a Nationwide-only driver was close to winning [that] championship. So, I’d like to see that change. I think we need to get our own identity. We need to go out there and win races before sponsors will look at us, so that’s the only thing I’d really change… try to get some more identity in this series.
Wimmer enjoyed what was his best run of the season this Saturday at Memphis, qualifying on the outside of the front row and finishing seventh, the first top 10 for Key Motorsports’ No. 40 team this season. The run was especially significant for Wimmer given the car’s special paint scheme: a pink and black design meant to raise breast cancer awareness. Breast cancer is an affliction that Scott and the Wimmer family know all too well, as both his mother and sister are survivors. So of all the fleets of pink cars that took to the track in the month of October, there were none more deserving or inspiring to see at the front of the pack than the No. 40 at Memphis.