Cup Career Curtains Will Rise At Charlotte
By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
CONCORD, N.C. – Three drivers – Kyle Larson, Brian Scott and Blake Koch – will make their NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut Saturday in Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Bank of America 500, adding their names to a rather stellar list.
Seven-time NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt, five-time Cup titlist Jimmie Johnson, Harry Gant, Janet Guthrie, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Donnie Allison, Michael Waltrip and Carl Berghman [Bugs Stevens] all made their Cup debut at the 1.5-mile track that opened in 1960.
“I definitely think about this being my first start,” said Johnson, who finished 39th in his 2001 Cup debut in Charlotte’s fall race. “It was a tough week for me. My close friend, Blaise Alexander, unfortunately lost his life on the frontstretch here. So it was a weird and emotionally-charged weekend for me. The ultimate high of qualifying for my first Cup race, my relationship with Lowe’s, the Lowe’s car that they had at the time didn’t make the show, so there was that big positive emotion-swing in that direction and the tragedy of my friend, pulling me in another.
“By the time Sunday came around and I was in the race, my emotions were back under control and I really enjoyed the experience on the track. I’ll never forget that first ah-ha moment I had was leaving the end of pit road. I was running somewhere in the top 10 or top 15, and Mark Martin and Dale Jarrett and Jeff Gordon were all around me. I still kind of get the goose bumps now just thinking about it. I just rolled off the end of pit road and I’m like here! This is where I’ve always wanted to be and I’m here.”
A short time later Johnson spun in front of Gordon and about took out his teammate, who was racing for his fourth championship.
“It was a taste for me of how humbling the sport can be,” Johnson continued. “I leave pit road on top of the world and it wasn’t five laps later when I was over there backwards in the wall. It’s a challenging sport.”
Stenhouse Jr. made his Cup debut in the 2011 Coca-Cola 600, subbing for an ill Trevor Bayne in the Wood Brothers Ford, but he didn’t make it to the series full time until this year.
“I think I enjoyed it because I didn’t really think about anything,” said Stenhouse Jr., who finished 11th in his debut. “I just kind of went out there and did it. I was focused on the Nationwide stuff. We were going for a championship over there and I’d get out and jump in this car and go out and run. It was actually tough trying to balance the two cars because they’re totally different, but, like I said, I didn’t overthink anything.”
Scott qualified 19th, Larson 21st and Koch 43rd for Saturday’s event.
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