Lagasse eager to prove himself with upstart CJM Racing

Updated: September 23, 2008

AP Photo/Dick Whipple

Scott Lagasse Jr. gets a Gatorade shower after winning an ARCA race in April 2007 at Kansas Speedway.

Scott Lagasse Jr. started this month just hoping to find a ride for the ARCA race at Chicagoland Speedway. He'll end it as the full-time driver of CJM Racing's No. 11 Nationwide Series entry.

A call to Venturini Motorsports owner Billy Venturini landed him a spot in the ARCA race, which Lagasse went on to win. In between landing the ride and winning the race, Lagasse met with Brent Weaver, CJM's general manager, for dinner. The driver wasn't even sure why they were meeting at the outset.

"During dinner, I just flat-out asked him: 'What are we sitting here for? Are you guys interested in something for this year or next year, or are you just trying to meet people and get ideas for going forward?'" Lagasse said. "He said the team was just kind of looking right now, and it was kind of a vague conversation.

"I left that dinner saying, 'These guys have got their heads on straight and they're here for the long haul and they're building a program that's going to be incredible in the future.' The next thing I know, Brent was hopping a plane to Chicago to pay attention and watch [the ARCA race]."

In a matter of two weeks, CJM Racing informed veteran Jason Keller it would be moving in a different direction for 2009, and Keller started assessing his options. When Keller received an opportunity to drive Baker Curb Racing's No. 27 Ford next season, he asked the team whether he could leave now to get started on next year.

Owners Tony and Bryan Mullet agreed because it would give CJM a chance to get started early with Lagasse. The 27-year-old had seven Nationwide Series and 19 Craftsman Truck Series starts to his credit before earning a full-time ride.

He'd started the year with JTG Racing (now JTG Daugherty Racing) in the Truck series but had just one lead-lap finish in eight starts with the team. But it turns out that a relative lack of experience is what CJM Racing was looking for.

"We were looking for somebody who was relatively undiscovered who we could brand with CJM," Tony Mullet said. "… We focused on character as a priority for us as well as the ability."

Mullet said the goal the rest of this season is to build chemistry heading into next year. The team's sponsor -- America's Incredible Pizza Co. -- is counting on winning next year, and Mullet says that can be accomplished.

"We feel like if we can get Scott the equipment to accomplish that goal, he's definitely capable on the driving end to accomplish that," Mullet said. "But as a new team, [with] a younger guy developing in a season, we're looking at the rookie [standings] and the point [standings], and as far as the future goes, building into Cup races down the road as well."

A wreck at Dover left Lagasse 31st in his debut with the team, but he vows he'll eventually have some better runs at Dover.

"Dover and I have a love-hate relationship. I love the place and have been fast there at times in testing or race situations. But something crazy always happens to me," Lagasse said.

This time, Lagasse's car bottomed out, and he got into Derrike Cope. Lagasse then cut a tire and hit the wall, ending his day.

"We had a tough weekend," Lagasse said. "We rolled off the truck and had some problems bottoming out and were bottoming out all weekend. But there's always something good that comes out of a situation like that, and it's that the guys are hard, hard workers.

"They are committed and as fired up as I am about winning races and making this team successful. But at the same time, we all know I'm a rookie driver and we're a young team. We have a long way to go, but we do have the resources behind us to do that, so it's just a situation of executing and moving forward."

Kansas features 48 entries

The entry list for Saturday's Kansas Lottery 300 features 48 entries, including a host of Sprint Cup Series drivers. Mark Martin is entered in JR Motorsports' No. 5 Chevrolet, while Roush Fenway Racing will have four cars. Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth will join full-time Roush drivers David Ragan and Carl Edwards.

Kasey Kahne will be in Gillett Evernham's No. 9 Dodge, with Denny Hamlin in Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 18 and Kyle Busch in Braun Racing's No. 32. Jeff Burton will drive the No. 29 for Richard Childress Racing, while Kevin Harvick will be in the No. 33 Kevin Harvick Inc. entry.

In addition, Jennifer Jo Cobb will attempt to make the field in a Derrike Cope Inc. entry.

Mark Ashenfelter is an editor at ESPN. He can be reached at mark.ashenfelter@espn.com.

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Austin, RWR part ways

When Chase Austin made his Nationwide Series debut in October with Rusty Wallace Racing, it was supposed to be the start of big things for the African American driver. Circumstances changed, though, and a driver originally slated to share seat time in the No. 64 Chevrolet never attempted a race this year.

Now the team and Austin have parted ways, and Austin is looking for future opportunities.

"Chase is a great kid, and he has the talent and potential to be a really good race car driver with enough seat time," Wallace said in a statement. "He's well-spoken and seems to understand the sponsorship end of this sport a lot better than most drivers his age.

"Atreus Homes had originally agreed to provide sponsorship for Chase to run a partial Nationwide Series and ARCA schedule this year. Unfortunately, with the housing market the way it is, Atreus couldn't provide the funding they had originally promised for Chase's program. It wasn't anything to do with Chase or our team at all; it just came down to the economic issues that are affecting the entire housing industry right now."

Austin ran the Camping World East Series schedule for the organization last year, posting four top-10s in 13 starts. Austin is disappointed, but the 18-year-old is anxious to see what comes next.

"Sure [I'm disappointed], I expected to be running in the Nationwide Series with RWR this year. I'm a racer, and I want to be in a race car," Austin said in the statement. "I had hoped it would be with Rusty. But I know you can't race at this level without sponsorship.

"By making the decision now, I can explore other opportunities for the rest of this year and for all of '09. Until we put something together, I'll keep running our family's Late Model."

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