News & Media

Lally poised to realize his dream of racing in 500

March 21, 2011, Dave Rodman,

Circumstances shuffled Andy Lally into a championship-winning career in sports car racing, but a mutual commitment between TRG Motorsports owner Kevin Buckler and his lead driver have resulted in Lally's lifelong dream coming true via a guaranteed start in the Daytona 500.

"To get a chance to race in the sport's biggest race is an absolute honor," Lally said. "Especially at my age, and having been seasoned in enough sports and divisions to know that not everybody gets a shot, I know I'm one of the most fortunate people on the planet."

"... my dream as a kid has always been stock cars. It's what I always wanted to do, was the first kind of race car I ever knew and the first toy I ever identified with."


Buckler said that despite Lally having only 29 stock car starts across four divisions, there was no doubt in his mind about the move, which came only days after TRG won its fourth GT class title in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, led for the second time in the past three years by Lally.

"In seven years of working together and seeing someone's true inside -- what they can do when you are seriously challenged and you are seriously going for it while you're out of energy and out of water and out of breath and how you pull it out and go deep," Buckler said. "Andy's the best. He's just the best guy I've ever seen in the sports car paddock. He's on his own level and he deserves this chance."

Qualifying for NASCAR's premier event has become easier in the locked-in top 35 era, where the previous season's top 35 in the owners' standings automatically get starting positions in the season-opening Great American Race.

TRG used eight drivers in 2010 -- including Lally in seven of them -- to gain the 35th position in the owners' standings, seemingly earning them that coveted position for the 2011 opener.

But on Jan. 27, Buckler said his friend and partner, Tom Pumpelly, divested his partnership in TRG Motorsports and took the owners' points with him to become an equity partner at Richard Childress Racing. That guaranteed RCR's Paul Menard a starting position in the Daytona 500 for his No. 27 Chevrolet.

Buckler, who continues to chase sponsorship for his own fleet of Chevrolets which use Earnhardt-Childress Racing Engines for power and who have benefited from a technical alliance with RCR, says he'll race the first five races this season "in their entirety," whether or not any sponsors sign up. But there was still the issue of points as TRG embarks on its third full season in the Cup Series.

"TRG Motorsports, needing [owners'] points, has now partnered with Richard Petty and we will operate the No. 71 with Richard's [2010 owners' points] from the 98," Buckler said. "It's as simple as that. We have ourselves teed-up so right for a sponsor right now with a fleet-footed little group of guys with a lot to offer."

Menard actually drove the No. 98 in 2010 for RPM and finished 23rd in the owners' standings. RPM cut back from four cars to two this season, leaving the 98's points unused until Buckler made a deal for them.

"We had some really cool opportunities to do some awesome partnerships with other teams for our starting spot in the 500," Buckler said. "We decided to go it alone. It might be the right choice, it might not be. But at the end of the day, we've spent three years getting here to earn our spot in the 500 and to put our driver in that spot and to have our guys standing on our pit box. It was just the way we wanted to do it and I hope it's the right decision."

With the Daytona 500 fast approaching, Lally reflects on just how long he's carried the dream of racing.

"It's unbelievable because this is something I've wanted to do all my life -- it really, really is," Lally said. "It's an amazing deal that's almost hard to put into words to really express to somebody how much this means and how much of a childhood dream this is.

"Even though I've come up the ranks driving all sorts of different things -- when I came out of karts my opportunities were in sports cars and open-wheel stuff -- my dream as a kid has always been stock cars. It's what I always wanted to do, was the first kind of race car I ever knew and the first toy I ever identified with."

Lally, who turns 36 on the day the garage opens for the Daytona 500 on Feb. 11, actually made his Daytona stock car debut in a TRG Motorsports truck at the 2008 season opener when he finished 11th, on the lead lap. This followed a brief stock car stint in 2007 in which TRG facilitated three starts in the ARCA Racing Series; Lally had a worst finish of 12th and two top-10 finishes. In 2008, he won the pole on the road course at Millville, N.J., and finished fourth when the race was cut short by rain.

"The biggest thing I'm going to have to do at Daytona -- other than stay out of trouble -- is to relax," Lally said. "You still need to be fit to do these races, but one of the biggest things you have to do is to have your mind-set correct.

"That's something that, over the years, I've been good at accomplishing. I've been good at relaxing and taking on the challenge and taking a breath, relax your hands and chill-out. Don't be overcome by all the circus around you and all the craziness -- just focus and do one job at a time and one lap at a time -- and if you're smart and stay out of trouble you'll take the checkered flag."

"I don't remember the last time I was this excited to begin a race season," Buckler said. "Our multiple partners and new paradigm approach to our Sprint Cup operation will be very strong assets as the year unfolds. We had a good run these last couple of years and we learned a lot, and that has put us into a fantastic position in 2011 to come in as a smaller, more efficient organization that's filled with great talent, tons of potential and determination and really make an impact on the track."

Buckler said he anticipated naming a crew chief for Lally's car early next week, when cars will enter Daytona for inspection on Friday.

"It will be very important to get acclimated and find drafting partners that will work with him right off the bat," Buckler said. "Fortunately, knowing that we're locked-into the starting field, we can use our Duel race on Thursday as race practice instead of worrying about getting ourselves into the show.

"The last time the Sprint Cup cars raced at Daytona, our No. 71 TRG Chevrolet finished ninth, which was our best finish to date. We know we've got the equipment capable of backing that finish up, provided we stay out of everyone else's trouble and race a clean, smart race."

Buckler said the revelation for him came last fall at Homestead, in only Lally's eighth Cup race, his sixth Cup start on an oval and only his third true race after three oval start-and-park efforts.

"About 30-40 laps into the race, on a good, solid long run, I'm looking at the scoring monitor and son-of-a-gun if he's not picking off every one of the back-20 guys, in terms of lap times," Buckler said. "It was really cool that he was running solid lap times ahead of 15 of the other single-car teams like us, and it was his third-ever [oval] race in Sprint Cup.

"He's super-dedicated and super-fit -- we're both into all sorts of extreme sports -- and that sort of rewards you a little bit. So we're going to put our arms together and give it our best shot."