News & Media

Caraviello: On the entry list, every driver has a chance

July 23, 2011, David Caraviello,

Those names and numbers represent an eclectic mix, most just trying to make it

They are issued every week, glanced over, and then soon forgotten, replaced by more important documents like starting lineups and race results, as fleeting as gasoline vapors that dissipate after a pit stop. And yet, at the same time, each one can be very different, often juxtaposing those drivers for whom NASCAR is a job, and those others for whom it is a career goal. On the surface, entry lists are terribly mundane -- a simple roll call of names trying to wedge their way into any given event. But they can also be enlightening, introducing us to new drivers and old ones in new places, never more so than when the Sprint Cup tour has the weekend off.

For non-Cup weekends like the current one at Nashville Superspeedway, where the Camping World Truck Series competed Friday night and the Nationwide tour goes Saturday, entry lists can be both familiar and alien at the same time. It can feel like walking a street you've strolled a thousand times -- oh yes, there's Trevor Bayne, Carl Edwards, Kenny Wallace and Brad Keselowski -- and suddenly veering down an alley you've never seen before. Mikey Kile? Matthew Carter? Charles Lewandoski? Without the usual assortment of moonlighting Cup aces, entry lists can become a melting pot of hopefuls, veterans and start-and-parkers, introducing you to new names and reminding you of where some more familiar ones are today.

Johnny Chapman was one of five drivers entered in both races at Nashville. (Getty Images)

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That's certainly the case for the Nationwide race at Nashville, which features only a trio of interlopers -- Edwards and Keselowski from the Cup side, and Truck regular Austin Dillon -- opening up potential starting spots for those who might not have tried to make the event otherwise. Drivers are catalogued by car number, so the entry list starts out familiar enough, with Mike Wallace and Elliott Sadler. Then there's Marc Davis, the former Joe Gibbs Racing developmental driver whose NASCAR career stalled after his father and team owner, Harry, died last year. Driving for Robert Richardson Sr., Davis will try to make his first national-series event since competing in the Nationwide event at Dover this past fall.

There are always hopes and dreams behind those names and numbers on entry lists, some drivers like Davis trying to make it, others trying to get back. Falling into that latter category would be Danny O'Quinn Jr., the 2006 rookie of the year in the now-Nationwide tour, whose ride with Roush Fenway Racing went away the next year because of a loss of sponsorship. Driving for car owner Archie St. Hilaire, he'll try to make just his third Nationwide start this season. Further down the entry list is Scott Wimmer, who finished third in the 2004 Daytona 500 and has six career wins on the Nationwide tour, yet has somehow been relegated to role of series journeyman. At Nashville, he's driving for Joe Nemechek.

It's the kind of weekend where you would expect program sales to be brisk. There's Justin Ashburn, a Tennessee native who had 12 DNFs in 14 starts in his rookie season of 2003, and now is attempting to make his first Nationwide race since Fontana. On the opposite end of the spectrum there's Timmy Hill, a rookie who's run all but one race this season for Rick Ware, with a best result of 11th at Road America. There's Kile, a former ARCA race winner who's made a handful of promising starts in Keselowski's truck, and placed 16th last weekend at New Hampshire in a Turner Motorsports car. There's Lewandoski, who bought his first NASCAR touring-series vehicle from Buckshot Jones, worked as a driving coach for Jeffrey Earnhardt, and has made 12 Nationwide starts this year.

A few of these little-known drivers have big-time connections. Drew Herring is an engineering student at North Carolina State who's filling in for Kyle Busch in Joe Gibbs' No. 18 car, one of at least three starts he's scheduled to make this season for the Gibbs organization. He led 39 laps and finished 12th at Iowa, and is also slated to compete at Lucas Oil Raceway outside Indianapolis in Gibbs' No. 20 car. Another engineering student, South Carolina's Danny Efland, is slated to compete at Nashville in a No. 39 car that has Jack Roush as its listed owner.

Not everyone, though, enjoys those kinds of associations. Others are just trying to make a living. Tim Andrews, son of former Cup crew chief Paul Andrews -- who won the 1992 championship with Alan Kulwicki -- is a former Petty Enterprises developmental driver who's made several start-and-park efforts on the Nationwide tour this year. Chase Miller scored a top-10 finish in his fourth career Truck Series start with Bobby Hamilton in 2006, yet has made 23 laps total in five start-and-park efforts on the Nationwide circuit this season. Brett Rowe has made eight start-and-park efforts for Morgan Shepherd's team. Johnny Chapman has been around the Nationwide tour since 1994, started a (then-Winston) Cup race at Rockingham in 1993, and has made several start-and-park efforts this season for Ware.

Then there are the names that are familiar for different reasons, remembrances from a different time and place. Entered at Nashville is Derrike Cope, who won the 1990 Daytona 500 after Dale Earnhardt cut a tire. There's Kevin Lepage, who made 201 starts in 11 years in NASCAR's premier series, with a top finish of fifth. There's Jeff Green, a 16-time race winner who claimed the 2000 championship in the then-Busch Series by recording an unbelievable 25 top-fives in 32 starts. There's his brother Mark Green, a series stalwart since 1995, and winless in 308 career starts. There's Dennis Setzer, a two-time Nationwide race winner better known for his exploits on the Truck circuit, where he won 18 times and was a championship contender for nearly a decade.

It's an eclectic list, this mix of youngsters and old-timers, those seen as hopefuls and those who are clinging to whatever hope they have. The entry list is that one time where they are all equal, when before the engines fire and the cars roll and the differences in speed and ability begin to separate them, they are all names on the same page. Some of these drivers will go on to win races, some will graduate (or return) to the Sprint Cup tour, others will start the car and then park it, doing what they must to make a living week to week, season to season, in the only profession they know. But all that comes later. The entry list is a wellspring for dreams and optimism, however farfetched they may be. Because on paper, after all, everybody has a chance.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the driver.