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Hackenbracht  keeps No. 51 up front in debut

June 06, 2013, Kristen Boghosian, NASCAR.com

Hackenbracht  keeps No. 51 up front in debut
First NASCAR national series race for Kyle Busch Motorsports provides opportunity to shine

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Chad Hackenbracht’s truck is capable of winning, even though its driver is making his first career start in a NASCAR national series. He didn’t temper expectations in his first appearance, placing fourth in the single practice at Texas Motor Speedway. Yet the 21-year-old from New Philadelphia, Ohio, casually recalls his spot on the leaderboard as if it’s ordinary for a first run in a truck.

“It’s probably the most stress-free weekend I’ve had at the race track in a long time, just due to the fact that this is the first time that I’ve raced and not owned our own equipment,” he said.

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The equipment he is driving this week belongs to Kyle Busch Motorsports, and has proved itself week after week, finishing outside of the top 10 only once this season.

To Hackenbracht, taking Kyle Busch’s spot behind the wheel of the No. 51 Toyota Tundra means he knows he can place well. He doesn’t seem concerned that, should he not place well, he can’t blame the car. More heavily weighing on him is the potential impact on the team’s season.

“We ended up fourth in practice, so it’s definitely capable of running up there,” Hackenbracht said. “And they’re going after an owner’s championship here in this truck, so I think we’ll be able to keep the ball rolling if we stay out of traffic.”

Hackenbracht, who finished eighth in points last year in the ARCA series, has signed on for four races with the KBM team, starting with the WinStar World Casino 400 and continuing in races in Pocono, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and Las Vegas.

It’s a schedule that plays to Hackenbracht’s strengths. He has a win and second-place finish at Pocono, as well as two top-10s at the track. His first pole came on a road course. This weekend was initially going to mark Hackenbracht’s first Nationwide start at Iowa, but the Truck deal kept him from pulling double duty. He would have had to miss the driver’s meeting at Texas to make practice at Iowa, meaning he would have finished at the back despite a qualifying run of 21st.

“It wouldn’t be fair to either team -- whether I meant for it or not, one of them would have not gotten my full attention,” he said.

With an all-new team, crew and car, Hackenbracht has a lot that needs his attention. He seems to be a natural fit with the young, outgoing KBM team; his car, despite the fact that many may not know his name, reads “Chad Hocken-something” above the driver-side window. Without their team owner running, Joey Coulter, at 23, is their oldest athlete driving this weekend.

Crew chief Rudy Fugle has already proven he can handle working with fresh talent. Seventeen-year-old Erik Jones, also making his Truck Series debut this year with a partial KBM contract, has taken the wheel of the No. 51 Tundra twice this year, and both times finished in the top 10 despite starts of 19th and 36th.

The chassis on Hackenbracht’s truck has as impressive a record as any entry. In 11 starts since 2011, the Toyota Tundra has one win, 158 laps led, six top-five and eight top-10 finishes spread out among drivers Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and Jason Leffler. To Fugle, the lack of Truck experience his latest driver has isn’t a concern.

“I wouldn’t consider Chad a rookie -- he has quite a bit of experience through the ARCA Racing Series and he has been to some of these tracks before,” Fugle said. “As a team, we will just have to work on our communication -- focus on the details Chad gives us about the truck -- we will make some small adjustments based on his feedback and fine tune the truck to his liking.”

As the Thursday practice session went on, it was clear the communication was improving.

“It’s definitely a good first showing,” Hackenbracht said. “I ended up (fourth) on my first time out; I think that’s really good.”

Hackenbracht ran 48 laps, spending most of practice toward the bottom of the leaderboard as he became familiar with his truck. He shot up to fourth during his mock qualifying run, .003 seconds from making the top-three and knocking current points leader Matt Crafton down on the speed chart.

The groove the No. 51 hit at the end of practice didn’t translate into qualifying, though, with the team ending the day with a starting position of 21st.

That may be a disappointing run to someone who ran so well in practice, but it shouldn’t be to Hackenbracht’s boss -- who, at his Truck Series debut in 2001, qualified 23rd on a partial contract with Jack Roush –- and finished ninth.

 

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