Spencer to drive No. 4 car
With 47 cars trying to get into the 43-car field, it's not a cinch -- though team owner Larry McClure does have remaining provisionals. Either way, Spencer is approaching Friday's time trials with confidence, and the competitors and fans better be ready -- because he's approaching the race with his same rubbin'-is-racin' driving style.
"You know, I think having a hands-on car owner like Larry who prefers aggressive driving styles will benefit us both," Spencer said. "We still have a desire to compete and to win."
McClure said the team is pumped now that they know they've got Mr. Excitement coming on board.
"Everyone involved with the company is top-notch," McClure said. "... We are changing drivers to evaluate our race team. Jimmy Spencer has a lot of experience which should help us determine a positive direction for the team. He will bring a lot of excitement to the No. 4 Monte Carlo and the NEXTEL Cup Series this weekend. We are happy to have him in the car."
Spencer said that he isn't looking at this as a one-race deal. As he gets older he gets more nervous that he might not be able to end his career in a full-time ride.
The last few years have been a roller-coaster ride. Since the disbanding of Haas-Carter Motorsports after the No. 26 car lost Kmart as sponsor, Spencer's career has been on a downward spiral. He finished 16th the 2001 final standings. Afterward, he picked up a gig with Chip Ganassi. It was a well-funded ride with a good teammate -- Sterling Marlin. But Spencer failed to make two races and finished 27th in the points standings.
He was fired by Ganassi and picked up by Ultra Motorsports driving the No. 7 car. He had a few highlights last year in that car -- a few top 10s and a top five -- but it was a largely unproductive season. And at the end of the year Spencer was without a full-time seat for 2004, as the team had lost its sponsorship. He did race in the Daytona 500 for the team, finishing 24th.
Now, he's got another shot. This time with the 4 team.
"I am happy to be in the No. 4 Monte Carlo this weekend," Spencer said. "They are looking for a sponsor and I am looking for a ride. I know I do not have a lot of years left to drive in this sport."
And the No. 4 crew knows it won't have many more races to run this year without a sponsor. Spencer said that's why he believes the team's hunger matches his own.
"I have never seen any more determined group of people than Larry McClure and his brothers," he said.
Spencer has got some catching up to do, though. NASCAR made some rules changes over the offseason. The softer tires have set a steep learning curve for drivers and, while some are still trying to figure it out -- evidence that it's not an easy task to master -- others have just gotten the hang of it. It's a daunting prospect for a guy like Spencer who now has to go out and compete on these wheels for the first time.
"I have been watching the races this year," Spencer said. "I am not real sure what to expect with the new tires. I think once I take the race car around the track a few laps, it will give me a better idea of what the car needs. Larry and the guys are very open minded for changes."
Spencer hopes things work out a bit better this time around than they have the last few seasons. He's not chasing a title or looking to finish top 10. Not right away, at least. His goals are realistic and sound. Spencer wants to race, and he just wants a team that will provide him with a car to drive every Sunday until he retires.
In that spirit, he's not coming to the 4 team with high expectations -- but he and the team certainly have hopes. He understands that the team has not had a smooth last couple of seasons and isn't coming in guns blazing. He's ready to take responsibility when he messes up and won't hesitate to point out other mistakes, either.
But after the mistakes are revealed, Spencer is focused on improving the team and maybe being able to stick around if they get a sponsor. He's concerned with making everyone better.
"You have to be somewhere where you want the team to do well," he said. "A driver cannot start blaming the crew or the crew chief and they cannot start blaming the driver. A team will soon deteriorate when this begins to happen. I realize a team has to work together. If one guy makes a mistake or the driver makes a mistake, the team has to pull together.
"If a guy starts pointing fingers, it is sure to fail."
Rupen Fofaria is a freelance writer living in Chicago and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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