Uphill Climb For Upstarts
February 21, 2002 | 12:00 A.M. EST
Confused? Don’t be. Yes, Kahne does come from a sprint-car background, while Vickers has been weaned on stock cars. And yes, Kahne will drive for a high-profile owner in Robert Yates in the NASCAR Busch Series this season, while Vickers will drive a family-owned Chevy.
But the common threads both share are that they’re young, they’re hungry, they’re highly-touted and they’ll both begin their rookie seasons this weekend when they attempt to qualify for Saturday’s RBC 200 at North Carolina Speedway.
Neither Kahne nor Vickers have a full-time Busch Series sponsorship deal (all 34 races), and neither of the two attempted to qualify for last week’s season-opener at Daytona International Speedway.
Yet one more thing the two young drivers have in common is that they’re in a precarious position to even qualify for Saturday’s RBC 200. Kahne will be making his Busch Series debut, while Vickers made only four Busch Series starts in 2001 and has very few owner points to rely on for a provisional.
“That’s the biggest thing we’re faced with right now, just making the races early on,” said Vickers, who finished 25th in the Sam’s Club 200 at Rockingham last November. “I thought we ran well at Rockingham last year, but I messed up in the pits during the race and that cost us. We qualified pretty well (22nd), so I’m confident that we can go back and there and do the same thing, if not improve upon that."
Kahne tested recently at North Carolina Speedway, and those are the only notes he and the No. 98 Channellock team have to go on. But then Kahne isn’t too worried about getting in the show.
“I’m not going to be too nervous about making races because I know with Robert Yates, I’m going to have good equipment,” said Kahne, who has won more than 50 races since first strapping into a race car at the age of 14. “We tested at Rockingham and worked on qualifying runs. I feel really comfortable with the setup in the car, and the No. 98 Channellock Taurus should be a contender this weekend.”
Crew chief Tommy Morgan, who spent several years working with Jeff Burton in the Busch Series, said he believes Kahne is ready.
“Kasey ran really well during our practices at Rockingham,” Morgan said. “Based on the qualifying times from last year, we are quick enough for a ninth-place starting position. Our race runs were great, too. After 88 laps we lost less than a second of speed. This Channellock team is looking forward to making its first race. We’re confident and we’re ready bring home some good finishes.”
Vickers and Kahne are both hoping to run for Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors in the Busch Series in 2002, but neither has more than a 24-race deal at this point. Vickers said he if and the team prove themselves early, then perhaps more sponsorship will come along to help them run the other 10 races.
“We’re very fortunate to have the sponsors we have (EMP and the U.S. Army), and we have to show other potential sponsors that we’re worthy of having them come on board,” Vickers said. “I’ve had a lot of success in the series that I’ve run in the past.
“I’ve won a lot of races, and hopefully we can do the same deal here in the Busch Series. I know it’s going to take patience, time and a lot of hard work, but myself and this team are willing to do just that.”
It was at Rockingham last February where Greg Biffle first began to show he would be a force to be reckoned with in the Busch Series. Biffle won the pole for the ALLTEL 200, then finished a respectable third in the race.
He’ll be one of the favorites to take the pole again and win the race, as well as Kenny Wallace in the No. 48 Stacker 2 Chevy. Wallace won the fall Busch race at Rockingham and finished fourth in the spring event.
The RBC 200 is set to begin shortly after 1 p.m. Saturday. Qualifying is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Friday.