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KBM wants Coulter to step in as top driver

January 03, 2013, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com

KBM wants Coulter to step in as top driver
Sponsorship opportunity steers Coulter away from Richard Childress Racing

The biggest thing at Kyle Busch Motorsports is the trophy case, and it’s overflowing.

The three-year-old organization has won 19 times and claimed 11 poles across two national NASCAR circuits, in addition to a pair of owner’s championships on the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. There are so many trophies at KBM that some are stored in empty offices, simply because there’s no other place to put them.

It doesn’t take a degree in mechanical engineering -- which KBM’s newest Truck Series driver is pursuing -- to understand that all that hardware carries implicit expectations.

“That’s a great sign when you’re a driver,” said Joey Coulter, who will pilot the team’s flagship No. 18 truck on a full-time basis this season. “When they say, ‘We want to go win our first championship, and we want you to do it,’ you kind of look around and go, ‘Yeah, I think I might be able to handle it.’ They’re very centered around winning, which is fantastic.”

"It’s pretty amazing when you sit back and pay attention how much you can learn from him."

-- Joey Coulter, on racing against Kyle Busch

Coulter’s arrival marks a tactical shift at KBM, which, throughout its short history, has employed multiple drivers in pursuit of race wins and owner’s titles. But Busch’s goal is for the team to flourish without him being in the seat, and toward that end the organization will chase driver’s championships for the first time in 2013.

That’s also reflected in the team’s NASCAR Nationwide Series program, where Parker Kligerman will compete full time. In the Truck Series, the onus falls on Coulter, a 22-year-old who won at Pocono last year and comes to KBM after two seasons at Richard Childress Racing.

Coulter was more than competitive at RCR, finishing third in the final Truck Series points standings. After Coulter’s Pocono victory, Childress spoke of promoting the Miami native to the Nationwide Series for 2013. Coulter said that option was there for him, but RCR is also a larger organization spreading sponsorship across several rides. Although no backing has been announced for his truck at KBM, Coulter felt driving for a smaller team where he would be more of the focus offered a better opportunity for funding and stability.

“I think the one thing KBM has going for them is, they’re just a smaller organization,” Coulter said. “They don’t have to take care of three or four Cup teams, three or four Nationwide teams, and three Truck teams. They’re a little bit less spread out, and I think it just opens up opportunity to maybe focus efforts a little bit smaller. I’m not saying RCR couldn’t handle all those teams -- they did a fantastic job with that organization, and have done a fantastic job. KBM could just focus their efforts on a little bit smaller organization and maybe make things move on a little faster.”

Coulter said RCR wanted him back, but sponsorship had not yet materialized, and he had to make a decision. It was the same with the potential Nationwide ride, which ended up going to Brian Scott after Coulter moved on.

“It was definitely a possibility,” he said. “It came down to sponsorship dollars. It was hard to get things concrete. We got a lot of, ‘Well, maybe; we’ll see what happens.’ We waited as long as we could, and just had to make a decision. It came down to sponsorship and where might have been the best place to go.”

So when KBM general manager Rick Ren approached Coulter’s father Joe one weekend, the family knew it had to make a difficult decision. As a bonus, Coulter’s longtime crew chief Harold Holly made the move to KBM as well. It may seem an ironic hiring, given the way Busch and Coulter are intertwined -- it was the former who bumped the latter after a Truck race at Kansas two years ago, leading to the infamous run-in between Childress and Busch in the garage -- but Coulter said there’s no one he’s learned from more on the race track than his new boss.

“Every time he ran a race, especially my first season, every time he’d race I’d do whatever I could to get around him, and watch and learn,” Coulter said. “He’s so good with throwing that race car around. It’s pretty amazing when you sit back and pay attention how much you can learn from him.”

In that 2011 Kansas race, Coulter got around Busch on the final lap to record his first top-five finish. Busch has since said he bumped the young driver afterward as a sign of congratulations, although some clearly didn’t see it that way at the time. In retrospect, it all seems a misunderstanding.

“There was a lot of passion going around for that whole scenario to play out like it did,” Coulter remembered. “Just kind of wrong place, wrong time.”

Time is something Coulter often doesn’t have enough of these days, as he pursues a racing career as well as a mechanical engineering degree at UNC Charlotte. He takes classes such as dynamics and heat transfer -- “lots and lots of math,” he said -- with a concentration in motorsports. Careful not to overwhelm himself, Coulter said he takes a lighter load than most students, scheduling classes around his race travel.

But occasionally, he has to do homework on the road.

“It’s hard,” he said. “It’s like a light switch. It’s either racing or school. It’s hard to kind of set it in the middle, especially when both of them require quite a bit of attention while you’re doing them.”

That will certainly be the case this season on the racing side, given that he’s tasked with running for a championship by an owner who thrives on performance.

After all, all those trophies at KBM didn’t get there by themselves.

“I tell people all the time, I was pretty fortunate for my first ride in NASCAR to be with a team like Richard Childress, and then the second shot I get is with Kyle Busch,” Coulter said. “I feel pretty fortunate to have those opportunities. It’s definitely something where after they make you that offer you go back and think, 'Are they sure they wanted me? Was that the right guy?' I think it’s going to be a great season. There’s a little bit of pressure, but it’s a big confidence-booster. It’s a lot of encouragement at the same time.”