The 2014 NASCAR rookie class is the largest in twenty years. It contains many up and coming drivers, all of whom hope to become the next great driver in the most popular form of motorsports in the United States.
One of these drivers may have a better chance than most, if only because he happens to drive for "The King" Richard Petty. Dakoda Armstrong competes in the NASCAR Nationwide Series driving the legendary No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports. Though technically a rookie driver, he has been around racing for many years, and has seen a great deal of success in ARCA and other series.
Recently, the West Palm Beach Motorsports Examiner caught up with this young driver to discuss his hopes for the 2014 season, as well as his hopes for his burgeoning NASCAR career.
Why did you decide to get involved in auto racing?
"My dad had a friend that had a go-kart and when I was 6 years old. We went and tested, and then decided to go race. We won our very first race and everyone in the family has been a part of racing ever since."
What is your favorite racing memory?
"I would have to say winning at Talladega in the ARCA series. It was my first win in a stock car and it was on a big stage with the Sprint Cup Series being there that week."
With the current economy, how difficult is it for drivers like you to market themselves to sponsors?
" It is extremely hard to get sponsorship nowadays. As a driver you have to have something different that you can offer. It's not just a name on a car anymore; it's a business partnership and you have to help grow their business."
What are your feelings about the 2013 season as a whole, as well as your hopes for the 2014 Nationwide season?
"Well, 2013 started off ok. We had speed and we were running and qualifying in the top-10, but then we went downhill and didn't run as consistently as I would’ve liked. As for 2014, I just want us to get to where we feel like we can run top-10s. I feel if we're a top-10 car we have the chance to win if things go our way that day. The whole team is working really hard, and we’re on our way there."
How do you feel about racing for The King?
"As a fan of racing, it's awesome and exciting as a driver. There is a lot pressure that you put on yourself to run well and win."
As you begin the 2014 NASCAR season, how do you feel your chances are for this year?
"We were definitely hoping for a better start to our season. As a team, we’ve been working really hard to improve on the season we’ve been having and I have faith that we will start to have those stronger finishes that I know we are capable of. "
Aside from yourself, who are the drivers to watch out for in 2014?
"This year has a strong class of rookies, all of them capable of winning. I feel that Ty Dillon is one that will be very hard to beat. That's a championship team, and they will run great every week."
With the ultra-competitive nature of the Nationwide series, how do you feel about the Sprint Cup stars coming in and competing with Nationwide regulars?
"It makes it much tougher with all of the Sprint Cup drivers running every week, but if they want to run we just have to get as good as they are and try to beat them. In the end, they make us all better drivers and teams because we have to continue to get better each week."
What is your favorite racetrack?
"Growing up in Indiana, I would say Anderson Speedway. I have turned so many laps there testing and racing. It's a place that, if I didn't run well, I would be mad for days. On the NASCAR circuit, I would say Iowa Speedway or Kentucky."
With NASCAR seeming to favor more strict enforcement of the rulebook, and imposing stricter penalties, "No. I think it will make it more competitive and gives the fans a chance to see a different winner each week."
How do you feel about the general state of motorsports in the 21st century?
"I think it’s a lot harder to get into racing now than it has ever been. The teams and venues are still putting on good races and the economy of the sport is starting to get stronger again. It’s a good sign that we’re still seeing new faces in the sport. I believe that racing still has a strong future."
I recently completed the Competition 101 Racing School, driving 20 laps in a former NASCAR stockcar. Do you think that programs like this are important to help fans understand the sport more?
"Yes, anyone that hasn't raced before probably doesn’t fully understand how different it is. Anytime I talk to someone that has been to the Richard Petty Driving Experience they say they are shocked when they drive as hard as they can and hit 150 MPH at a track. If you think about it, Sprint Cup drivers do 190 or 200 MPH."
How was your off season?
"My off-season was pretty busy. First, I just made sure that I would have a chance to be on the track this year. After I signed with RPM, it was just a lot for prep work, making sure everything was ready by Daytona. It was nice to go back to Indy for Christmas and see my family and friends."
The West Palm Beach Motorsports Examiner wishes to thank Dakoda Armstrong, Hannah Moody, and the entire Richard Petty Motorsports team for helping to make this interview possible. Stay tuned to this column for more interviews and coverage of your favorite drivers, teams, and more!
The NASCAR Nationwide series enjoys a rare weekend off before returning to action on Saturday, April 4 at the Texas Motor Speedway. The race will be televised live on ESPN2 at 8:30 p.m.
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