On Thursday, Feb. 20, the 47 drivers and teams who attempted to qualify for the Great American Race will once again take to the high banks of the Daytona International Speedway for the Budweiser Duel. These twin races will help set the field for the 56th running of the Daytona 500, and will be filled with more rookies than any race in NASCAR since 1994.
One of these rookie drivers, Cole Whitt, recently took a few minutes out of his hectic Daytona schedule to discuss history, sponsorship, and his team's hopes for the 2014 season.
1. Why did you decide to get involved in auto racing?
"It's kind of been in the family, my grandfather raced, my dad, and my cousin, so they kind of all got me into it."
2. What is your favorite racing memory?
"Winning my first silver crown race at the Springfield mile. First time there and won the 100 lap race."
3. With the current economy, how difficult is it for drivers like you to market themselves to sponsors?
"Very difficult but I think it helps when you go to people you can show you have a connection with their product, which is the case with my sponsor for the Daytona 500, Speedstick GEAR."
4. What are your feelings about the 2013 season as a whole, as well as your hopes for the 2014 Sprint Cup season? Nationwide season?
"2013 was pretty crazy because I didn't get to run full time but had a lot of fun running underfunded cars and showed that we can run out of our class and that was cool. I plan on doing the same thing this year."
5. How do you feel about the Gen 6 car, as opposed to the COT?
"Seems good . Has a lot of grip and speed so makes it hard to pass but seems comfortable."
6. As you prepare for the 2014 NASCAR season, how do you feel your chances are for the rest of the "regular season"?
"I think we will improve through out the season and I look forward to seeing what this team can grow into. But I think top 25 would be a good starting goal."
7. Aside from yourself, who are the drivers to watch out for in 2014?
"I think the rookie class this year is something to watch. Been awhile since NASCAR Sprint Cup has had this many rookies and it's gonna be fun racing against them for rookie of the year."
8. Do you follow the Grand Am series at all? If so, what is your opinion of the reunification of sportscar racing in 2014?
"Sorry I don't follow it enough to comment."
9. With your families history in open wheel racing, have you ever considered "doing the double" and running both the Indy 500 and Brickyard 400? Do you think any of the current Sprint Cup drivers will consider this feat in the near future?
"Yeah I would love to but I have no connection to the Indy series so probably won't happen , I believe Kyle Larson is going to this year."
10. What is your favorite racetrack?
11. With NASCAR seeming to favor more strict enforcement of the rulebook, and imposing stricter penalties, do you think that this effort will stifle competition?
12. How do you feel about the general state of motorsports in the 21st century?
"I wish it wasn't so money driven but that is just part of our sport. The more money the more speed it seems like. But so many rookies this year must mean something good is happening."
13. What are your goals, realistic or otherwise, for the Daytona 500?
"To make it in first then hope to go for it in the race. A top 15 would be good."
14. 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?
"Probably, but nothing is like the real thing."
15. How was your off season?
"Great, lots of hard work with my team to get things ready for this season, but also got to spend time with my family that I don't normally get to do. Also got more involved with my church, The Cove Church, so that was nice also. "
16. Is anything else you’d like to share with the readers of the West Palm Beach Motorsports Examiner?
"I appreciate your interest in our team. We are going to race our hearts out all season for our fans and turn some heads!"
Fans of this young driver should mark their calendar's for March 1 and visit Speed Stick's YouTube channel to watch the documentary series chronicling every step of Whitt's journey from the Swan Racing team headquarters in North Carolina to the Daytona 500 checkered flag.
Over the next couple weeks, this column will strive to provide full coverage of the events leading up to the Great American Race at the end of February, including a possible interview with the head of the CJ Mears Gang himself, Casey Mears, as well as other members of the NASCAR garage.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season opens with the Daytona 500 in Daytona Beach, Fla., on Feb. 23. The race will be televised live on FOX at 1 p.m. ET. The cars will also be on track throughout the "SpeedWeeks" leading up to the "Great American Race," including the Budweiser Duels qualifying races, which will be televised live on Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1.
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