A while back, driver Donnie Neuenberger stood on an infield trailer with Richard Petty and asked him for his advice. Petty gave him some and Neuenberger has been ignoring it ever since, much to his own delight.
"He told me, 'Whatever you're going to run, run it. Don't bounce around a lot,' " Neuenberger said. "That's good advice when you'rein a good program. In my case, I've taken the opportunities that have come."
Which is why Neuenberger of Brandywine, Md., will be starting 26th today in his first-ever Craftsman Truck Series 250.
This is the first appearance of the truck series at Daytona International Speedway in the series' six-year history.
"I think this race is as important to us as when the Winston Cup cars went to Indianapolis the first time," said Joe Ruttman, who starts on the pole with a series record qualifying speed of 187.563 mph.
For a number of years, Neuenberger, 37, competed in the Goody's Dash Series and then last season tried his hand at the ARCA cars, a series that runs cars much like those used in Winston Cup. It was his ARCA efforts that attracted the attention of the Long Brothers and of North Carolina. Robert owns the Ford truck and Charlie is the crew chief on Neuenberger's Ebay.com Ford.
"It's neat being here and it's so great to be part of the real speed week," said Neuenberger, referring to the fact that the Dash and ARCA series run at the start of the week, instead of in the midst of all the Winston Cup activity. "It's also new territory. I'm getting to run against guys I haven't run against before and in an unrestricted [no restrictor plates limiting the amount of air to the motors and therefore the amount of speed on the racetrack].
"Eventually, I'm going to be in a Busch Car. That's my goal. Somewhere. Somehow. Sometime."
Dale Earnhardt, who won the International Race Of Champions series last season, will start on the pole today in Race 1 of the four-race series. Beside him will be Tony Stewart and, behind him, his fast-rising son Dale Earnhardt Jr.
"The IROC is always a great race here," said Earnhardt, who won this race and two of the other three events in the series a year ago. "Last year, I was a little bit patient and waited until the right time, and I was able to race Mark [Martin] there at the end and beat him."
His victory here last year was one of his record 33 victories at the track.
Thirty-two year ado
Veteran driver Dave Marcis, who has qualified for the Daytona 500 for 32 straight years dating to 1968, was unable to make it 33 yesterday. He finished 17th in the second of the Twin Qualifiers and remains tied with Richard Petty, who also had 32 starts at Daytona. Petty's, however, were not consecutive.
"It's not the end of the world," said Marcis, who will be 59 next month. "My people worked really hard. Everybody is going to be disappointed. I'm disappointed, but all I can say right now is don't count me out."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. led the charge of new faces into the 500. Little E, as he is known, will start on the outside of the fourth row. Starting behind him in the field will be Scott Pruett (15th), Matt Kenseth (24th), Ed Berrier (26th), Dave Blaney (31st), Stacy Compton (33rd) and Mike Bliss (35th). Viagra's Jeff Fuller is the only one to miss the cut.
The Joe Washington-Julius Erving Busch Grand National team had the blues yesterday, when their second-round qualifying attempt for tomorrow's NAPA Auto Parts 300 fell short. Driver Tony Roper could only manage to get 183.441 mph out of the team's Chevrolet. That was 46th fastest, not good enough to make the 43-car field.