Said says 'it's time' for first Cup victory
Said never got the chance to take care of business at Watkins Glen, N.Y., on two occasions, including last year, as rain canceled qualifying. Said is a so-called "road-course ringer," so his teams didn't have enough owner's points to earn a berth in the race.
So, Said went home both times without seeing just what he could accomplish. This year, though, he knows what he can do given the opportunity.
"It's time to get it done," Said says of earning his first Nextel Cup victory. "I've been close a few times, including in Sonoma [, Calif., back in June].
"I know I can do it -- the pieces of the puzzle are in place. I have a great crew, top-notch cars [and engines]. I can't ask for anything more than what I've already received from MB/Sutton Motorsports. It's the best team I've been with."
Until this year, Said has simply been a road-course guy, but that has changed now that he's scheduled to drive about a dozen races for the organization that fields full-time teams for Joe Nemechek and Scott Riggs.
Granted his team doesn't run every week, but crew chief Frank Stoddard has won races with Jeff Burton while with Roush Racing and the team gets its engines from Hendrick Motorsports.
In other words, equipment shouldn't be an issue for Said. That means he just needs to drive the wheels off the car, have good pit stops and a little bit of luck.
Luck, though, hasn't always been on Said's side in his limited Cup endeavors. He has run well before, but has never visited Victory Lane. In four starts at the Glen, his best finish has been an eighth.
But if things had broken differently, Said believes he could have two road-course wins on his Cup résumé. The races in question came at Sonoma in June and at Watkins Glen in 2003.
"Those two races still cause me to wake up from a dead sleep," Said says. "A pit-road penalty was costly in Sonoma this year, and I got dumped from behind at the Glen by Robby Gordon two years ago. I had great cars in both of those races and felt I could have had a strong chance of winning each one."
Instead, he's left thinking about what must be done to win this time around.
"The first objective is to be running in the top five with 20 laps to go," he says. "If I can do that, then I will have a chance to win."
Of course, that's easier said than done in an era when Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart seemingly dominate on road courses. Stewart has won the last two road-course affairs, including the race at the Glen a year ago.
"They are the best, and I would like nothing better than to be challenging them for a win," Said said. "There are so many good drivers out there on a road course, but I believe that Tony and Jeff are a notch ahead of the field."
Always a threat on a road course, Said looks forward to the day when he's considered a threat on any type of track. That day, though, is not yet at hand.
"I feel good that I've made six out of the seven races I've tried," Said says. " On the ovals, I've felt like at times I've run good enough to be in the top 15 or 20, and that's been my goal. I just need to learn how to run that way the whole race.
"I'm making progress every race. I just need a few more ovals. When I get on a road course, I can get the car right on the edge and I feel comfortable there. I just haven't found that zone yet on the ovals, and it's going to take a little more time. I think when I get it, I'll get it."
For now, though, Said knows patience is vital.
"Right now, I'm on the conservative side. We don't have a lot of cars, and I can't just start wrecking the two cars that we have. I'm trying to sneak up to it conservatively. But I feel better and better each time I go to the track. If I didn't do that, then I'd be pretty depressed about the season."
Said would love to run the full schedule next year, but it's more likely he'll run about 14 or 15 races.
"I would like to run enough [Nextel Cup] races where I almost didn't have to do any road racing so I could just concentrate on this," Said says. "But we'll see how it goes."
If nothing else, Said will at least have a core group of fans this weekend, including a group of "Saidheads" wearing wigs to resemble his bushy hairstyle.
"Watkins Glen is as close to a home track that I have," Said says. "I have more fans at the Glen than anyplace else. The Saidheads are a cool bunch of people, and they have a lot of fun at the races."
Imagine the fun they'll have if Said finally gets that elusive first win.
Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at NASCAR Scene magazine and a contributor to ESPN.com.
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