News & Media

Notes: Mittler instrumental in launching careers

June 04, 2011, Sporting News Wire Service,

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Owner Mike Mittler's competitive record doesn't exactly jump off the page at you. In 143 starts in the Camping World Truck Series, dating to the inaugural 1995 season, the owner of the No. 63 Ford has posted exactly one top-10 finish.

Nevertheless, Mittler is an important figure in the history of the Truck Series and in NASCAR racing as a whole, having helped to launch the careers of current Cup Series stars.

The one top-10 on Mittler's highlight reel came in 2002, when Mittler put fellow Missourian Carl Edwards in his truck for seven races. Edwards finished eighth at Kansas Speedway in his third start in the No. 63. Later that season, after Edwards had run his full quota of seven races (the maximum he could run without sacrificing his rookie-of-the-year eligibility for the following year), Mittler put Regan Smith behind the wheel.

Mittler was understandably proud when Smith and Edwards finished first and second at Darlington in May. Third was Brad Keselowski, who drove two races for Mittler in 2006. Jamie McMurray, a 1999 Mittler alumnus, finished ninth.

"It was really exciting to see that," Mittler said Friday at Kansas Speedway. "That race wasn't over, and the phone was ringing and the texts were coming in. I guess I can say I'm getting old, but I got to tell you I had tears in my eyes when I saw that happen -- 1-2-3 were former No. 63 drivers.

"It's been a lot of fun. Some people say, 'Why do you do it? Why are you involved in it? Why do you keep going?' We do it pretty well all on our own, just have a few friends helping us out -- we've got all volunteer people.

"We've had fun over the years, and to see the satisfaction of knowing that we've done a little teeny, tiny thing to help some of those guys be successful is kind of what our fun is for still being involved today. We've got a great young driver with us now [Nick Hoffman], and we hope a few years from now we're talking about him the same way."

Change for the better

To Jeff Gordon, Kansas Speedway has improved steadily since its 2001 debut in the Cup Series.

That point of view might seem strange, coming from a driver who won the first two Cup races at Kansas and hasn't won there since, but Gordon says the way the track has aged makes for excellent racing.

"To me, this track has just gotten better and better every single year," Gordon said. "I loved this track from the beginning -- obviously -- but, like all tracks do over time as they settle in, you get some different characteristics that come into play.

"Different bumps -- you see the pavement start to wear a little bit. Here in Kansas, I think those things have really only made the track better because of the way it wears the tires. The grip level just makes for multiple grooves. We already saw in practice [Friday] -- cars up against the wall, cars on the bottom, cars in the middle. That's going to make for a great race here [Sunday]."

To pick up his third win at Kansas and his second victory of the year, however, Gordon will have to come from mid-pack. He qualified 22nd for Sunday's STP 400.

Foot, don't fail me now

The foot injury Paul Menard sustained before last Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 still bothers him, but Menard's crew has found a way to make him comfortable in the race car.

Menard required 20 stitches after he sliced his right foot on the dock at his North Carolina home. Though Elliott Sadler stood by as a possible relief driver at Charlotte, Menard completed the 600-mile race.

"It's better," Menard said. "I still can't really put any weight on it; it shoots pain up the leg if I do that. But if I stay off of it, there's no pain, and in the car it's fine.

"We're still going to blow air on it [in the car during the race] just to try to keep it as dry as we can. If the stitches were going to pull out they would have done that during the 600-miler last week, when it was fresher. So I'm not too worried about that, but we're still going to try to keep it as dry as possible."