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At last, Quiroga can turn his attention to the track

October 05, 2012, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com

Three-time NASCAR Mexico Series champion tries to improve in the Truck Series

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- German Quiroga pulled up to the back bumper of Todd Bodine during Camping World Truck Series practice Friday at Talladega Superspeedway, hoping to push the two-time champion on the big restrictor-plate track. The reaction from the vehicle ahead of him was swift and demonstrative -- a waving hand that, in any language, meant one thing.

No way.

"We told German to go up and try and hit the guy in front of him," crew chief Rick Ren said. "They were all waving him off."

"I have a four-race period where we really can show the potential of the team and me as a driver. There were so many other things ... that I don't have to worry about anymore."

--GERMAN QUIROGA

Welcome to Talladega, rookie. Saturday's race marks the first of four starts this season for Quiroga, a three-time champion of NASCAR's Toyota Mexico Series who is trying to break into the sport's national division. Driving an entry for Kyle Busch Motorsports, Quiroga is making his third start overall and first since last season's finale at Homestead, but it's clear the 32-year-old Mexico City native has come a long way despite his lack of time on the track.

With good reason.

Quiroga moved to the United States without a ride lined up for this season, and put together the four-race deal with KBM after securing sponsorship from Net 10, a Miami-based prepaid wireless provider. Last year, the task of finding financial backing clearly weighed on him. During his debut last fall at New Hampshire, he felt the pressure to perform to earn another start. During his most recent event at Homestead, he was trying to keep his nose clean to earn NASCAR approval to race at bigger tracks.

Now? He can go out and just race, a relief that's evident on his face.

"It was kind of step by step," Quiroga said. "And now I have a four-race period where we really can show the potential of the team and me as a driver. I think that puts me in a right position to be pretty calm coming to my first race of the season. There were so many other things that I was worried about before, in my first two races, that I don't have to worry about anymore."

This week, his concerns are directly related to the task at hand. Ren, also KBM's general manager, said Quiroga "has watched and watched and watched" film of the most recent Talladega truck race in an attempt to learn as much as he can. Last season, he traveled to several races just to listen to Kyle and Kurt Busch over the radio, trying to hone his communication skills. His two starts last season -- the best of which was a 16th-place result in his debut at Loudon -- taught him the value of qualifying and not riding behind one truck for too long.

"He has relived those races so many times in his head," Ren said. Friday, it was time to put the lessons into action. During practice, the crew chief ordered Quiroga to go out and catch the pack, which he was unable to do the first time around. But he did on his second attempt, and Ren had him moving all over the track -- from the bottom to the top to the back. Although Quiroga stood 29th on the speed chart after practice, Ren said he was sixth-fastest at one point running in a pack. The crew chief was satisfied enough that he called off practice early, not wanting to risk being caught up in an incident.

After driving late model-type cars in the Mexico series for so long, Quiroga believes the time off the track might have actually helped him.

"I think actually by stopping driving, and stopping being so used to those cars, and now jumping into a truck, helps me," he said. "Because now, this is the feeling. This is the feeling of a race car. Not the one I had before. I'm feeling pretty good. I'm very happy and very excited. Each time I jump in the truck, I'm not nervous. I'm ready to go."

Even Ren can see the difference in his driver.

"Last year he was walking on broken shards of glass," the crew chief said. "I can tell how much more relaxed he is right now. Because I think last year, he thought if he didn't come in and perform, he wouldn't get another chance. Well, they gave him another chance."

A chance which Quiroga hopes to parlay into a full-time ride in 2013, though he realizes performance may dictate whether enough financial support materializes. This four-race stint is as much a trial period for the sponsor as it is the driver.

"We definitely have to think about getting top-10s and top-fives," Quiroga said. "That's our goal with the sponsor, and how the team runs. I'm going to do my best."

A better barometer for that, Ren said, will be Quiroga's remaining KBM races at Texas, Phoenix and Homestead. Talladega is different animal.

"You don't win three [championships] in a row by accident," Ren said. "You've got to know how. I think if he can get through here unscathed, that will be a confidence-builder for him. What he's got to understand is, very rarely do you come through here unscathed, because it's usually somebody else's fault."

The primary goal for Saturday is to finish the race. As for pushing other drivers? Perhaps, before the checkered flag falls, they'll stop waving Quiroga off. "I'm sure I can do it the right way," he said. "Smooth and straight."

The crew chief is confident the time will come. "I told him, we get halfway through the race," Ren said, "those people who didn't want to play with you today -- they'll play with you tomorrow."