For the second consecutive year, Michael Waltrip Racing and Peak Performance teamed up to find what they hope to be the next best driver. In last year’s contest, Patrick Staropoli, a man that is attempting to finish medical school after graduating from Harvard University, won it all and earned a chance at racing for Bill McAnally Racing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West.
This year’s story is a little different.
Christian PaHud, 21, took home the crown in the competition. PaHud, a rather unknown Late Model racer from Ohio is set to race for McAnally with sponsorship from Peak in a K&N Pro Series West race on Oct. 11 at All American Speedway as a teammate to MWR co-owner Michael Waltrip. Edging out 17 other drivers in the competition, he used his experience on and off the track to show he deserves a chance just like Staropoli.
Since he was a child, the Dayton-native has always been racing. With a family history of competition for wins in a race car, it was only natural for PaHud to get into the seat of one. Throughout the three-day competition, all 18 contestants work on a short track, a road course, a speedway, car control, a dirt track, endurance racing along with marketability.
In an exclusive interview with Speedway Digest, PaHud walks us through his journey in the contest, what the future is like for him, how he got to this point and more.
- What was running through your mind when they told you that you had won the contest?
At first, there wasn’t really much going through my mind. There wasn’t much really to think until I look at my parent’s faces and saw the reaction on their faces. It was just kind of a blank mind. Everything we worked for and have done over the past few years has finally come together. It is working out for the best and hopefully I can use this opportunity to prove that I deserve to be here and I can do what I can do.
- What did it mean for them to see you win the whole thing?
It meant the world to them. We put so much into it. We have taken food off of the table just to get race track at times just so we have that shot to do better on a weekend. It just means so much to me that they have followed me and backed me to this point. They give me a drive to show what I can do and show I have what it takes and show what we have done when we come together.
- What did you learn while working with Michael Waltrip, Clint Bowyer, Brian Vickers, Jeff Burton and Danica Patrick?
All the contestants and everybody talked about how much fun it was for everybody around to have Clint and everybody else around to help out as much as possible, as much as they could. Learning from them was definitely an experience; learning from Danica during the whole press releases and commercial shoots and Clint helping me out on my line. Everything on and off the track; it was just really cool to have that experience to be able to move on to do other racing stuff knowing that they were there to help you and give you what they could
- How did you first find out about the contest?
My cousin gave me a call when he heard about it on the internet. I actually watched it last year and saw they were doing it again this year, and I thought, whether we made it or not, it would be a good opportunity to put my name out there. Making it into the show was accomplishment alone, let alone winning it.
- Going into it, did you think you were going to win it?
At first, it was mainly an exposure thing. There were some great names in the competition, and the more I thought of it and the closer it came time to do it – I thought: why just go into it with the thought of that it’s good exposure? Let’s go out and win this. It worked out for the better. Somehow, we ended up winning it.
- If you didn’t win the contest, what were you going to do?
This wasn’t really a make or break opportunity for me. We were doing all of the stuff on our own and racing as a family. I wasn’t going to end my racing career just because I didn’t win, but it helps me in my racing career either way. It shows millions (of people) that I have what it takes. Even if nothing comes of it past this one race, I’ll still go back to racing as a family and do my own thing.
- Has all of this attention been over whelming for you?
Not necessarily. I’m one of those people that doesn’t like to sit still for very long and I don’t like to hang around and do nothing. Now I actually have a reason to get up and do stuff. I like doing press conferences, radio interviews and phone calls. That kind of keeps me calm and relaxed; getting me ready for the next race to come. It is helping the time pass before my first K&N race, so that way it won’t seem like it takes forever to get here.
- Do you feel like without this chance, you might not have received a chance to race in a NASCAR sanctioned division?
It is kind of debatable. You don’t know what may come and what might not come. At the point in my life that I’m at now, it probably wouldn’t have come in the near future. It definitely helps me to run a NASCAR sanctioned event and get the chance to race in the K&N Series to show what I can do.
- How does your background in racing help prepare you for the next step in your career?
I have raced a little bit of everything. I raced go-karts for 11 years and Legends cars and Late Models. Going from one car to another is hard to do. I guess you can say that going back and forth from car to car is a big step either way. It will help me when it gets time to get into a K&N car. I’ve gone from car to car so much that I’ll be able to pick it up and take over to do what I need to do to get the most out of the car as possible.
- What do you feel like you need to prove when you go out on track?
I really don’t think I have to prove a lot. I don’t know if there are things that really need to be proved. Patrick already showed that this competition really isn’t a joke. This is a racing competition; it’s not just a TV show. He kind of made a little impression on me to do well. Again, I don’t feel that I have to prove that I can do it. Everything will work out sooner or later.
- You see what this contest has done for Patrick Staropoli with the win earlier this year. What can you learn from what he has done on the track?
We have talked quite a bit about what is going to happen in the future and what is going to happen out in California before the race. It is good knowing that I can call him when I need to and talk to him about what is going to happen.
- What’s your ultimate goal for the foreseeable future?
It would be nice to go out and win this race and then maybe make a few more K&N starts here and there if we can. If not, I’d be perfectly fine coming back home and racing with my family.
It has been a year since a Michael Waltrip Racing car has won a race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Of course, there was the entire “spingate” ordeal, which dismissed NAPA from one of the top Toyota teams in the sport. Howver, MWR has rebounded with two full-time cars this year, and a partnership with Identity Ventures Racing in a third vehicle.
Since Brian Vickers won at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway at this time last season, the organization hasn’t scored a victory. It is not due to a lack of effort, however, as MWR drivers, Clint Bowyer and Vickers, sit 12th and 16th in the standings, respectively. With the new Chase for the Sprint Cup format in play, it is go time for MWR, and they have started to do just that.
Vickers is coming off of a runner-up finish at Daytona after a stretch of horrific luck spanning from Pocono through Kentucky. Bowyer has been the opposite. Starting out the year rather slowly, the Kansas-native has four top-10s over the past six races – moving up from 17th in points since then.
Even with luck on their side, is MWR going to be contending for race wins? What about the Sprint Cup Series title?
Well, even while their drivers have combined to lead 74 laps this season, they haven’t been in play late in events. The team has had trouble adjusting to the new rules package – similar to Roush Fenway Racing, but not as severe.
If there is any track that MWR needs to return to, it is certainly New Hampshire. The organization will be fielding Jeff Burton in that third car this weekend. Burton, 47, is making his second start in the Cup Series this year, and it could be his last pending on sponsorship. Brett Moffitt made his first pair of Sprint Cup Series starts in the No. 66 Toyota this year, and impressed the MWR folks enough to sign a deal for next season. It appears Moffitt will run a handful of races later this season – possibly running a full year in 2015.
At New Hampshire, Bowyer has a pair of wins back when he was racing for Richard Childress Racing. Besides that, he has two top-four finishes with MWR at the 1-mile track, but struggled during both races at the speedway last season. Loudon is one of Burton’s best tracks. He has four victories in 38 starts at the track, and he nearly won both races there in 2013. Before joining MWR, Vickers wasn’t exceptionally great at New Hampshire – recording two top-fives in his first 13 starts at the speedway. Since then, he has three straight top-10 finishes.
During Friday’s first practice, Bowyer and Vickers were each inside of the top-10 as they look to seal the deal for MWR’s first win in 2014.
A race that featured a pothole ended with NASCAR’s most dominant driver going back to victory lane for his second straight victory. Jimmie Johnson earned his second win a row as he led 272 of the 400 laps run in Sunday’s FedEx 400 at Dover.
Johnson has now won nine times at the Monster Mile, extending his record for having the most wins at the track. The win marks Johnson’s 68th career victory on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series circuit. On a restart with less than five laps to go, the No. 48 Chevrolet was able to hold off a hard charging Brad Keselowski for the win after passing Matt Kenseth who spun his tires on the restart.
“Our whole day, we were in a range and we were balanced pretty well, just couldn’t run that fast," Kenseth said in a post-race press conference. “If we tried running fast, we just couldn’t run that quickly. We just started off too tight and if we started out decently, we would be too loose at the end of a run. We were just trying to keep up with track position.”
"The first run or two, I didn't think we were in a dominant position, but towards the end of the first run, things started coming around and I felt like we were in great shape," Johnson said. "It was an awesome racecar. The first run wasn't sure we were really going to have the normal Dover magic here.
However, the win did not come easy as the entire field was thrown a curve ball before the half-way point of the race.
Suddenly, a piece of debris went flying into the air. There was thought that it was a can at first, but conclusions came that one of the strangest incidents occurred.
Jamie McMurray was running 16th when his No. 1 car suddenly hit a piece of the track. As he was coming out of Turn 2, McMurray hit a piece of concrete which sent his Chevrolet into the wall on the backstretch. The race was red flagged as track officials worked on repairing the hole in Turn 2 which was approximately six inches according to team radios.
“We will do the best job that we can and see what we can get,” McMurray’s crew chief, Keith Rodden said after NASCAR wouldn’t enable them to work on the car during the red flag.
NASCAR Vice President of Competition, Robin Pemberton said after the race that it was against the rules, but there has been exception to that specific rule in the past. Pemberton referenced the cable issue at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2013 as an example of when NASCAR would enable teams to work on cars under red flag conditions. Pemberton also stated that an epoxy-type solution was used to patch up the hole.
Besides having damage to the pavement, the cross-over bridge above the turn was also bruised in the incident. A piece of glass on the bridge’s outer part shattered as the concrete flew up into the air. The bridge is approximately 30 feet above the track surface according to a track spokes
Kevin Harvick stated that some guys were looking at that area on Saturday after the NASCAR Nationwide Series event. He noticed the track was coming up, but it was not worked on.
“I saw it this morning on the way to the driver's meeting," Johnson said over the radio to his crew during the red flag. "It was already coming up. I was wondering if they'd seen it."
The red flag lasted just over 22 minutes as a speedy-dry type of concrete was used to fill the hole.
As pit stops were about to start, Alex Bowman blew out a tire to throw out the first caution of the day, but A.J. Allmendinger attempted to short pit and was caught a lap down with just 25 cars on the lead lap after 65 laps.
Clint Bowyer was attempting to pass Kyle Busch in Turn 4 when he got into Busch’s No. 18 Toyota, sending him into the wall. He successfully got around Busch, but then he went right into the fence. After the wreck, Busch stalked Bowyer’s car during the caution, attempted to give him a tap, and then went into the garage with his beat up car. Busch rushed over to his motor home where he could not be reached for comment.
Allmendinger got into Ricky Stenhouse Jr. who then hit his teammate, Greg Biffle. The rear end of the No. 16 Ford was destroyed, and the entire right side of Stenhouse’s car had to be cut off in the garage after he hit the inside wall on the backstretch.
“I didn’t see it coming," Biffle said in the garage area. "They were about two and a half groove up on the top and it looked like A.J. tried to squeeze Ricky there. When he came up off the bottom, he turned right into me. It really sucks. We were racing hard there, and that’s what happens when you are back there.”
As he was leading the race, Harvick blew a right-side tire following the restart after the red flag. Bowman got into the will two more times following his initial wreck, and went to the garage after blowing a tire on Lap 221.
Ryan Newman was working his way inside of the top-10 after running approximately 20th for the first half of the race, but had a transmission failure which forced his No. 31 crew to go to the garage. Newman was mandated to a 31st-place finish.
Entering Dover, four-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon was leading the points standings. Gordon was contending for a top-five spot the majority of the day. Evidently, the handling gave out on the No. 24 Chevrolet, ending the day in 15th.
After the 400-mile race, Gordon relinquished the points lead to Kenseth, who has yet to win a race this year. Kenseth leads the standings by two markers over Gordon with Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson with Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounding out the top-five.
After 13 races, 10 drivers are all but locked into the Chase for the Sprint Cup with Kenseth, Larson, Newman, Vickers, Menard and Dillon being the remaining six drivers who are high enough in points to race in the Chase as of now.
Here are some notables from the FedEx 400:
- Clint Bowyer earned his first top-five finish of the year at a non-restrictor plate track by crossing the stripe in the fourth position.
-Martin Truex Jr. recorded his best finish of the young season on Sunday afternoon by finishing in sixth.
-Tony Stewart made a hard charge for the lead late in the race, but after the late-race caution, Stewart fell back to the seventh position.
-Finishing 11th, Kyle Larson was the Rookie of the Race. Larson started at the rear of the field for an engine change, but sporadically made his way up through the field.
-Making his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut – Brett Moffitt finished 22nd in the No. 66 Toyota Camry for Identity Ventures Racing.
-Danica Patrick finished 23rd on Sunday – her best career finish in four starts at Dover.
-After experiencing fuel pickup issues throughout the day, David Gilliland ended the day in 29th.
-Blake Koch recorded a career-best finish of 30th in the No. 32 Ford. Making his fourth Sprint Cup Series start, Koch outran his previous best finish of 35th during this year’s Coca-Cola 600 where he finished 35th.
-J.J. Yeley had his third engine failure for the third consecutive time this year.
-Paul Menard earned his seventh top-10 of the season with a 10th-place finish at Dover. Menard's career-best years in 2012 and 2013 consisted of nine top-10s each.