Sieg arrives on scene with Daytona performance
July 10, 2014, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
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Ryan Sieg was the first driver to the Daytona International Speedway media center following Friday night's NASCAR Nationwide Series Subway Firecracker 250. Initially, he stood off to the side, looking a little overwhelmed, not exactly sure where to go.
This was the 27-year-old's first post-race news conference as a top-three finisher in one of NASCAR's national events. As the night's third-place finisher, he took his seat on stage behind the microphone, wide-eyed, wide-smiled.
Dressed in a mostly plain, nearly all-black fire suit Sieg stood next to race runner-up and points leader Regan Smith, whose custom-made JR Motorsports drivers suit was crowded with colorful patches and who looked much more comfortable on stage -- although not nearly as excited or awestruck.
"It was a win for our team," a grinning Sieg declared in his first sentence to the press. "This is really a big deal. Awesome to come to Daytona and get a career-best finish."
As for his team, "they were extremely excited," Sieg said, recalling the final feet to the checkered flag. "They were all yelling on the radio. It was great ... just as excited as I was. It was awesome."
One race doesn't make a career. But Sieg's effort, essentially pushing Smith's JRM teammate Kasey Kahne to a thrilling photo-finish victory, is perhaps a beginning for him. His previous best NNS showing was ninth place in the season-opener here.
Some NASCAR fans may not be familiar with Sieg, whose crew chief's first name is "Cowboy" (Starland) and whose one-high school hometown of Tucker (Georgia) is known for being the headquarters of "The Big Green Egg" barbecue.
But he's gotten the attention of some pretty important people in the garage, especially after Friday night.
The winning team owner, Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- without even being asked -- spoke about how impressed he was with Sieg, not just because his driver was the benefactor Friday night, but in Sieg's efforts all season.
"I'm real proud of Ryan," Earnhardt said. "I watched him at Dover when I was on top of Regan's pit box and he impressed the hell out of me. I hadn't really paid a ton of attention to him prior to that, but I know those guys were just kind of running on a shoestring (budget).
"He had a couple runs during the race at Dover that were better than anybody outside the top five for sure. He kind of hung around and raced with guys in some equipment far better than his. It's great to see him run well. He does a lot with very little. It's good to see."
Kahne also acknowledged Sieg's role in his victory, even pausing in the middle of his winner's interview on stage to stand up, shake Sieg's hand and thank the younger driver as he walked by.
"Every move I made worked out because he was there and pushing as hard as he was," Kahne said. "It was great to have him there. I've watched him and he does a nice job for where he is in the series.
"It's tough to run with the Junior teams, the Gibbs, Penske, Roush and Turner Motorsports all those teams out there. He does a good job with what they have. If he keeps it up he'll definitely get more opportunity. He's a good driver for sure."
Not only did the performance earn respect from his competitors, but it also netted Sieg the biggest paycheck of his life. Plus, it put Sieg in the Nationwide Series Dash4Cash competition with three other first-time qualifiers: Smith, Ryan Reed and Jeremy Clements. The top finisher among those drivers on Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway will earn a $100,000 bonus from Nationwide Insurance.
And that's a hugely tangible reward for a driver like Sieg, who doesn't have the mega-bucks backing of JRM (Smith) or Roush Fenway Racing (Reed).
"Hopefully, it'll bring some more sponsors," Sieg said. "We have them come on here and there and it would be nice to have a full-time one since we run full-time in the Nationwide Series.
"Hopefully, this got some eyes."