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Goals high for Turner Motorsports' Cup debut

July 07, 2012, Bill Kimm, NASCAR.com



Goals high for Turner Motorsports' Cup debut

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- As the sun sets off of Turn 1 of the famed Daytona International Speedway track and the green flag waves to begin the Coke Zero 400, there will be a new car getting up to speed with one of NASCAR's most famous drivers behind the wheel.

Turner Motorsports, with help from Hendrick Motorsports, is making its Sprint Cup Series debut with the No. 50 Walmart Chevrolet, in honor of the retail giant's 50th anniversary. The car will be driven by four-time Daytona winner Bill Elliott, who will make his second start of the 2012 season.

"To be able to represent [Walmart] and come in and do this part of it and then bring Turner in on the other side, it's a win-win deal in my opinion."

--BILL ELLIOTT

"I'm looking forward to it," Elliott said from the 2.5-mile superspeedway. "These guys have done a great job at this point. What [Turner Motorsports] has done on the Truck and Nationwide side, they've really put it together here especially the last few weeks. They are very capable -- it seems like they are on the horizon of where their future may be in Cup down the road and we'll try to get them a good start here Saturday night."

This year, Elliott's focus has been more on his son, Chase, and his racing career than his own. So the 16-time Cup most popular driver was surprised to get the call and honored to help bring Turner Motorsports and owner Steve Turner into NASCAR's premier series.

"[It was] kind of a weird deal -- it kind of all of a sudden popped up," Elliott said. "Some of the people that represent me called me and said, 'What do you think about doing a Walmart car for Daytona?' I said, 'That'd be great. I would enjoy having them come into the sport.' To be able to represent them and come in and do this part of it and then bring Turner in on the other side, it's a win-win deal in my opinion."

Turner, however, said the choice of Elliott was a simple -- and obvious -- one.

"I think it might be because he's got a past champion's provisional," Turner said with a laugh. "We needed to make sure we make the race. Plus, getting to work with Bill ... I'm from Georgia and watched him race as a kid, so its pretty exciting to work with him."

There are unique challenges for both Elliott and Turner as they prepare for 160 laps at Daytona. For Elliott, he's trying to get familiar with not only a new crew and team, but in the car, where he has made just six starts in the past year and a half. For Turner, the first race is always the toughest and getting started on the right foot is crucial.

"It'll be tough, there's no doubt about it," Elliott said. "The bad thing about it -- anytime you sit out it's like not swinging at the golf ball. One thing about Daytona and Talladega, if you can kind of get halfway into the ballgame, you can be competitive, and that is where you need to be. If we just kind of keep chipping away at it, avoid some of the things going on on the race track and position yourself, you got just as good a shot as anybody. I think they've got a good competitive car here and it'll be up to me to put it in the right places, along with a little bit of help from some people and just go from there."

"We're excited -- first Sprint Cup race for us," Turner said. "A little bit over our head maybe, but were going to have some fun out of it. Working with Bill -- it's fun to be around a veteran like that. The team is excited to have him in there and we're looking for a good run."

Turner has made a name for himself as an owner in relatively quick fashion, and this step is the next in what could be considered a quick progression. The team made its Truck debut in 2009 and quickly became a force in the series the next season with drivers Ricky Carmichael and Jason Leffler. In September 2010, Turner increased its portfolio with the purchase of Braun Racing in the Nationwide Series and for the past two seasons, the team has run a three-Truck and three-Nationwide car operation, amassing eight victories, 58 top-fives and 149 top-10s among both series.

"We feel like we've got our Truck program under control now; we're working hard on our Nationwide program and once we get it where we want we'll probably start running a few Cup races here and there," Turner said. "We will eventually progress into doing some Sprint Cup stuff, but we're trying to conquer one beast at a time."

Turner openly gives much of the credit for his success to Rick Hendrick and Hendrick Motorsports. The team gets its engines and technical support from Hendrick and the partnership has been very successful.

"Being able to work together as a team and give them what they need back from us -- we're on the track a lot of times ahead of them so we can tell them what we are seeing with our stuff," Turner said. "It works back and forth and it's really a great group of guys, anything Rick Hendrick touches it's that way."

Officially, this is a one-race deal for Turner. That being said, he didn't rule out more Cup races in 2012, although he was very coy with the details.

"I'm looking at a couple more," he said. "Nothing I can share at this time, but I made a couple of drivers a couple of promises and if they uphold their end of the deal, I'll uphold mine."

On the flip side, Elliott knows his time behind the wheel is coming to an end. He is closing in on his fourth decade in the sport, but this is a sport that cherishes youth, not necessarily experience. That's OK with Elliott. He looks at his role now as a "stepping stone." It's his job to do as well as he can, get Turner started on the right foot and turn this into an opportunity for a younger driver. "I know it's not a long-term deal, but it could be for somebody else," Elliott said. "It could position them to be more involved in this sport somehow, some way."

For now, the focus is on this weekend. Elliott is making his 60th Daytona Cup Series start Saturday night, and while he has no plans to catch Richard Petty and his 74 Daytona starts -- "I don't think I'll even try," he joked -- Elliott wants to be in the mix when the checkered drops after 400 miles.

"I just want to go out, run competitive and get out of here with a good finish," he said. "Be competitive, that's our goal. Top-10, top-15 -- if you're competitive you'll be there. If you avoid some of the mayhem, you'll be fine."

Not surprisingly, Turner's goals are a bit loftier.

"Sit on the pole, lead every lap, and win the race," Turner said with a smile. "That's the only way I race."