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Armstrong In A Cautious Hurry To Make His Mark

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, April 19 2012

Dakoda Armstrong knows what most young drivers know: that the window of opportunity will only stay open for so long in NASCAR. (Photos courtesy of ThorSport Racing)

LEAWOOD, Kan. – It’s easier today for young drivers with untested talent to get a shot at stardom in NASCAR than it was in the 1990s and before. There is very little doubt about that. But there is also very little doubt that keeping a ride in one of NASCAR’s top three series is as tough as it’s ever been.

Dakoda Armstrong, a 20-year-old driver in the Camping World Truck Series, is well aware of those things and is planning accordingly.

Yes, Armstrong said, there is an urgency to make his mark before his window of opportunity slams shut, but there is also the knowledge that foolish moves on the race track could also end his NASCAR dreams for good.

“Win this year? I definitely want to,” Armstrong said during a visit Wednesday to the offices of SFP, the sponsor of this weekend’s truck series race at Kansas Speedway. “But I think the biggest thing is, I would rather have 10 top-10s in a row, or five top-fives in a row by the end of the year. I think consistency speaks a lot for itself.”

Armstrong has a couple of handy blueprints that he can follow – and has, to a certain extented, followed – as he makes his way up through the racing ranks.

Dakoda Armstrong's next challenge is the Kansas Speedway tri-oval.

He is a native of Indiana. New Castle, to be exact. That is, he is a native of Jeff Gordon country and Tony Stewart country. And that’s a country that has an increasingly worn path to NASCAR. It involves racing karts at an early age. Then to quarter-midgets, still at an early age. From there, up to USAC and sprint cars (in Armstrong’s case, the muscular 410 non-wing jobs).

“The reason I went the NASCAR route was because of those guys,” Armstrong said of Cup champions Stewart and Gordon. “I grew up watching them and I knew their backgrounds and they raced what I raced and I kind of wanted to follow them.”

Armstrong went to fendered cars in 2008 when he entered the USAR Pro Cup Series. From there, a suggestion by Ricky Hendrick to approach KenSchrader Racing led to start at Toledo in the ARCA Series. That sent him to team-owner Wade Cunningham and that led to a meeting with Roger Penske and a driver development deal with Penske Racing in 2009.

A circuitous deal, but, a “Super lucky deal,” Armstrong said.

In 2011, Armstrong was signed to a partial ride with ThorSport Racing in the Camping World Series. The ride was for seven races. He had one top-10.

This year, Armstrong is back with Duke and Rhonda Thorson’s team, where he is teammates with veterans Johnny Sauter and Matt Crafton.

The plan is to run a big schedule. The fact is, Armstrong’s time to shine is now. The reality is, that time will not likely be as lengthy as was Gordon’s and Stewart’s.

“The more time you have (to prove yourself), the better you are going to get,” Armstrong said. “But it seems like your time runs short these days. It’s like with Jeff Gordon when he first started and he had all those wrecked cars. Someone probably couldn’t do that nowadays. But he got it done when the time came. So that’s kind of what you have to do.”

Armstrong has shown improvement in each of this three races this year – he was 35th at Daytona, 21st at Martinsville and 14th last weekend at Rockingham.

Not bad if you consider that ThorSport has switched over to Toyota Tundras this season and that his two veteran teammates also started off slowly in the first two races.

This weekend the race is the SFP 250 at the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway oval. It’s a place where Sauter has run well; he won there in 2011 and was second in last year’s race.

And the plan for Armstrong is to improve again. Because while it is still early in the season, Armstrong knows his audition for the big time could be a short one.

“It’s a tough sport,” Armstrong said. “There are a lot of good drivers out there. Rides are harder and harder to get. With the technology these days, it gets more and more expensive so teams just don’t have the time to develop the drivers. You’ve got to be good as soon as you step into the equipment. It’s tougher but you’ve got to step up to the challenge.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, April 19 2012
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