Cale Conley looks to make NNS debut at Bristol
March 14, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
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The 21-year-old, a native of Vienna, W.Va., will pilot the No. 33 Chevrolet fielded by Richard Childress Racing.
Qualifying for the Drive to Stop Diabetes 300 presented by Lilly Diabetes is scheduled for 10:10 a.m. ET Saturday at the 0.533-mile track.
"We raced here last year (in the K&N Series), didn’t do as well as we wanted but … we finished," Conley said Friday at BMS.
"I learned that you’ve got a whole race here, and even if you go a lap down – at one point I think I went two laps down because I was in a backup car and it wasn’t quite ready – we ended up finishing 13th and on the lead lap after starting last.
"So you can really chip away at it here, but you’ve got to keep your head up and stay aggressive. That’s for the K&N race. I don’t know … this (Nationwide effort) will be a whole new learning experience I’m sure."
Conley competed for his family-owned team in 2013, earning four top-five finishes and finishing 12th in points. He said he tested with RCR earlier this week at Nashville in preparation for this weekend’s race.
"Overwhelming is the easy way to put it," Conley said of the transition to the Nationwide Series and the Bristol opportunity. "There’s so much newness to all of this … it’s going to make for some great memories some day. Hopefully I’m here for a long time, but this one will never be forgettable."
Because the team is outside the top 30 in owner points (it is currently 31st), Conley will have to qualify for the race based on speed. He was fifth fastest in Friday’s opening practice and 18th in the afternoon session.
Although he has competed in open-wheel (USAC and World of Outlaws), Conley said getting to NASCAR remains the focus.
"Last year I turned 21; age-wise it’s time to get up there and start racing," he said. "We started looking at different options - what kind of things were going to be possible for us to try and get into that next level?
"Through all the connections and the relationships we made in that search, this deal started to evolve. Six or seven days later it was a done deal and here we are.
"I couldn’t be happier to be a part of this organization and learn what everybody here has to plug into my head and teach me. It’s been a pretty good ride so far."
And if he makes Saturday’s lineup?
"I just want to come out of here with a smile, and just learn as much as I can," he said. "I’d love to leave with my chin up high. I don’t want to lose any confidence.
"Stay strong and confident and roll through the weekend … get through this and stay focused for the next one. And hopefully come out with best result possible."
According to RCR officials, Conley will also be in the No. 33 when the Nationwide Series heads to Darlington Raceway in early April.
Should he qualify, he would become the first RCR driver to make his NNS debut at Bristol.