Pro Series experience? At Dover, leave it at the door
May 30, 2014, Kristen Boghosian, NASCAR.com
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Cale Conley is making his first NASCAR Nationwide Series start at Dover International Speedway on Saturday in the Buckle Up 200 (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). He's got two starts at the track -- one from the pole -- in a K&N Pro Series East car, but if you ask the driver, he'll do his best to forget the laps he's run at the track before. Rounding out the first practice of the weekend in second on the leaderboard, he might be on to something.
"I think just the track time is going to be helpful but the cars don't really compare at all," Conley said. "...So the track time will be good, but I think that I just need to take the confidence from (the K&N track time) and none of the experience, really, because it will be so different."
It's a counterintuitive strategy, considering that many drivers get their first NASCAR national series start at the track because of their experience there. Conley himself has run K&N races at two of the four tracks he's been billed to run for Richard Childress Racing this season. Dover is another of the handful of tracks on both the K&N Pro Series circuit and the national series circuits. It's the track where Ty Dillon, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. each had their first Nationwide start.
In his last race in the K&N Pro Series East -- then known as the Busch East -- Logano finished second at Dover. He kept the momentum going in his first national series start, finishing sixth in his return to the track. He had a similar result at Loudon, where he picked up a K&N win and went on to finish second in his first Nationwide Series start at the track.
According to Logano, the jump from the Nationwide Series to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is the easier one. When moving from K&N to Nationwide, drivers have a lot to adjust to -- specifically the tires.
"It takes something different in a Nationwide car to go fast than it does in a Cup car and that's the same thing for Cale, he's coming from an East car to a Nationwide car, that is an awful big jump," Logano said. "You're going from a bias ply tire to a radial tire -- that is the biggest thing he will see. It takes experience."
The K&N tire gives drivers a car that’s not as responsive, or "a little bit lazy," according to Conley, when compared to his No. 33 Chevrolet, which he called "so responsive from the steering wheel." With such drastic changes behind the wheel, Conley's strategy in Saturday's race is simple: Qualify well, and stay there.
"(I'm) just kind of preparing myself for the newness of it all, and I'm going to use all day (Friday) to soak it all in and be a sponge, and hopefully qualify up front because it seems like it's hard to pass -- especially if your car is the least little bit ill-handling," he explained. "If we can get ourselves in a position to be up front, I think we can try to ride there all day and be in a position to sneak a good finish out of it at the end of the weekend."
Conley's strongest qualifying attempt so far in Nationwide has come at Darlington, where he started 12th and finished 11th. Two of his four other Nationwide Series starts have come at Richmond and Iowa, tracks he's raced already in the K&N series. His starting position at the latter track, 21st, belies his record in K&N, which boasts two starts in the top five.
That's not to say his laps at the track won't help him at all this weekend. While Conley noted that his lack of familiarity with the car has made feedback to crew chief Nick Harrison more difficult to pinpoint, he plans on using his teammates -- particularly Brendan Gaughan -- for their knowledge of the track in place of his.
"I think I can carry the confidence with me, but the experience running the K&N car, I think it would be safe for me to leave that at the door when I crawl in tomorrow," he said.