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Drivers debate importance of past experience at Rockingham

April 14, 2012, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com



Drivers debate importance of past experience at Rockingham
Truck Series drivers differ on whether past experience matters at Rockingham

ROCKINGHAM, N.C. -- Experience, it seems, is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to Rockingham Speedway.

Heading into the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 200 at the 1.017-mile track, drivers seemed to differ on whether or not previous experience driving competitively at the track was going to play a major role in deciding the outcome of this Sunday's race.

"There are a lot of people out there who really don't know ... what to expect out of their trucks."

--JUSTIN LOFTON


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" We come to these tracks and it should take you three to five laps to figure it out."

--PARKER KLIGERMAN

Some drivers entered in Sunday's event -- such as Kasey Kahne, Ron Hornaday, Todd Bodine and Jason Leffler -- drove on the track when it was a mainstay on the NASCAR circuit. The track, then known as North Carolina Motor Speedway and North Carolina Speedway, hosted Cup Series races from 1965 through 2004 and what is now known as Nationwide Series races from 1982 through 2004.

Others drivers more recently ran on the track when it hosted ARCA Series races in 2008 through '10. And others have never run on it all, or at least not in a competitive race.

Justin Lofton, who ran on the track in ARCA races in 2008 and '09, said he thinks he knows things that will give him an edge over others who either haven't run on it lately or at all.

"I think it's a huge advantage," Lofton said.

He explained that he's learned not to worry if he's not comfortable in the truck during a practice session.

"Sometimes we go out there and we're like, 'Man, this is the worst truck I've ever driven. We're just moving around, bouncing around.' Then you come back in and your crew chief comes over and tells you you're third or fifth on the board [in terms of speed], and you kind of settle down," said Lofton, driver of the No. 6 Chevrolet truck fielded by Eddie Sharp Racing.

"So I try not to get all worked up about it. I know what I'm looking for -- and there are a lot of people out there who really don't know what they're looking for, or what to expect out of their trucks on Sunday."

Parker Kligerman, on the other hand, said he doesn't figure he has any advantage at all over the rest of the field despite also having run recent ARCA events at the track, including a win there in 2009.

"Well, as professional race car drivers, we come to these tracks and it should take you three to five laps to figure it out," said Kligerman, who drives the No. 29 Dodge for Brad Keselowski Racing. "You know, if you don't have it in that three to five laps figuring out a track, you're probably not going to get it that weekend.

"And honestly the difference between the cars and the tires that we've run back in the other series, there's a huge amount there that doesn't really carry over. For me, I feel like I know the feel that I want in a race truck and that's just the biggest thing. When we go out there in that first three laps I know this is good or it isn't and that's the biggest thing that helps. Getting around the track line-wise, you should be able to figure that out."

David Starr, driver of the No. 81 Toyota truck in this Sunday's race, has never raced at Rockingham. But he said he's tested there four or five times, including the recent March 6 test that was open to all competitors in the Camping World Truck Series.

He said that should even the playing field, at least for him. Starr also said overall driving experience will play more of a role than past experience specific to the Rockingham track.

"The biggest thing is it will be about tire management -- knowing when to race hard and not to overdrive the corners," Starr said. "The way you drive the truck really affects how the truck handles. You can abuse the right-front tire. So there are going to be a lot of things where a driver's experience can help him, I believe."

Sensing that, and the fact that some younger drivers seemed reluctant to participate much in the first practice Friday at the track to save wear on tires, NASCAR announced just prior to the second Friday practice that it was allotting seven sets of tires to teams for the weekend, including five for the race [with the fifth to be handed out at Lap 100 of Sunday's scheduled 200-lap event]. Earlier, teams thought they would have only five sets for the entire weekend, and many were reluctant to burn two of them during Friday and Saturday's practices.

Good to be back


Justin Lofton is no stranger to Rockingham, having concluded his 2009 ARCA championship season at the track.

* Practice 1 | Practice 2 | Practice 3 | Practice 4 | Lineup

"Every time you come to Rockingham, it's all about conserving your tires," Lofton said. "Even in practice, me and a couple of other drivers were talking about it, and it's almost a tenth (of a second) per lap and then every time you go through a heat cycle ... it's another tenth. So it's almost two-tenths per lap that we're expecting in dropoff. By the 13th lap [in practice], we were almost a full second slower than we were on the first lap we ran on new tires. So it's all about who can make one set of tires last longer for the last 50 laps of the race -- and whether or not we get a caution. So it's going to be a crapshoot, but tires are everything."

Speaking of the tires, Kligerman said that's another reason past experience at the Rock will mean little come Sunday. Kligerman noted that the trucks have much greater horsepower than the ARCA cars he drove previously there, but added that the Hoosier tire run in that series is totally different than the Goodyears that will be used in the Truck race.

"The Hoosier tire is very forgiving, very soft, it falls off very quickly," he said. "This Goodyear tire, I feel like they've done a good job. It has a rate of falloff that we can keep up with. It's about a tenth (of a second) per lap, which is nice that you can kind of know exactly where you're at in the falloff.

"What that means driving-wise is that in the truck drive-off [out of a corner], getting to the throttle, is a lot easier than the ARCA car. The ARCA car takes a lot more, I guess, patience on the throttle. You almost got to treat it like an egg shell that's under there and then the way that you can kind of attack the corners more in a truck and with this Goodyear tire you can get away with a little bit more in terms of long-run speed."

Starr, meanwhile, insinuated that he might just have a secret weapon up his firesuit sleeve. He called up good friend and former driver Johnny Benson, who won a Cup race at the Rock in 2002, prior to making his trip to the pine-tree countryside of North Carolina.

"I was picking his brain a little bit," Starr said of Benson. "He was like, 'Aw, you won't have any problems.' And I said, 'Yeah, but the last Cup race I saw here, you won it. So give me some pointers.' So he gave me a few tips that I hope will help me."