Bryan Davis Keith, lead Nationwide Series writer for Frontstretch.com and a contributing writer for THL, had a chance to sit down with Shelby Howard discuss his season so far in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
Bryan Davis Keith: You had a pretty solid run at Vegas, but a wreck at Bristol. Talk about your season so far.
Shelby Howard: It’s been a little frustrating. We’ve kind of had a slow start. We went to Daytona, and had a really good car down there in practice. But we didn’t get a chance to qualify, so we missed that race. That kind of got us off to a slow start. Then we went down to Vegas, and we ran OK for the first time out of the season, we ended up 20th. But, we went to Bristol and we had problems as soon as the race started. We had a top 15 car at Bristol, but 10 laps into the race we had brake problems, which we fought back until we wrecked the thing. So we’ve had a slow start, but everyone’s confident in what we have, so it’s just a matter of time before we put it all together and get some decent results. We ran pretty well last year at Nashville both times, and we’ve got better equipment and learned a lot since then. I think we’re going to be good this weekend.
BDK: This is your second full season with ML Motorsports. How much progress have you made on the equipment front, and what have you been doing to move forward?
SH: We’ve made a lot of progress. I have one car in the fleet this year that I actually ran last year. Everything else is all new to us. We got five cars that have come from KHI, and it’s all great equipment. I think that’s brought us a long ways, and they’re also helping us with some setup stuff. I feel like we’re a long way from where we were last year.
BDK: When you came on board, the team had to transition from a veteran in Mark Green to a younger driver in yourself. What was that adjustment like for you and the team?
SH: You know, I haven’t had to do much adjusting. It’s a really easy group to work with. This group has been together for a long time, and where they’re located it’s not like you’ve always got people coming in and out from different places. They’re the only team here. I used to race against these guys actually back in 2003 in the ARCA Series, so I’ve known them for a long time. That kind of helped the transition a little bit, but the biggest thing was really just getting to know them personally. I’ve gotten to spend a lot of time with the guys, especially over the offseason, and I think we’ll be even better off this year because of that.
BDK: You are in a different situation with your team not being in the Charlotte area. What are the pros and cons of being located away from NASCAR’s hub?
SH: One advantage is you’re not really going to lose anybody to anyone else. The disadvantage is that you’ve got a lot of bills overnighting things up here. But, apart from that, just running cars down to North Carolina. I mean, everything’s down there. All the parts, everything you need for these things is in North Carolina, so that’s the biggest challenge. Anytime you want to go to the wind tunnel, whatever it is, you’ve got to go down there. I guess I’d say the travel is the biggest part, having to go down to North Carolina and back. But they’ve got a good shop up here that’s just as nice as any other Nationwide team has down in North Carolina. The facility they have is actually really nice.
BDK: You have a break scheduled after Nashville, and then three races consecutively at Texas, Talladega and Richmond. For a part-time team, does that pose a challenge to have three straight weeks of running at three very different race tracks?
SH: We probably don’t have enough people to do a full-time deal, but we’ve got the people to do the schedule we’ve laid out the right way. Not running every race, we’ve got more time to prepare. I mean right now we’ve got our Nashville car ready, we’ve got our Texas car ready, we’re always ahead at least one race in terms of the car being prepared. A lot of that is due to how much work the guys have put in over the winter, as well as the cars we’ve gotten from KHI. They’ve got a pretty organized schedule of what car is going to run what, and also if we wreck a car how to change the schedule. They’ve done a pretty good job of laying out the season all the way through.
BDK: You’re scheduled to run at Daytona in July, the debut race for the Nationwide COT. What is your team doing to prepare for that race, and where is your car coming from?
SH: We’re working with KHI on getting our COT cars, and we’ve been out to the proving grounds in Arizona once already, and we’ll be back out there in a couple of weeks. We’ll have a test in Daytona. There’s been a lot of preparation going into that race.
BDK: You’re fortunate to have steady sponsorship. With the purse cuts, have you had to adjust your model at all to keep running your limited schedule?
SH: It’s kind of just been holding steady. It’s certainly not helped us, but in terms of doing anything different on our part, we haven’t really changed anything. We’re trying to stay competitive and make ourselves more competitive. It hasn’t really affected our team that I’ve seen, but I can imagine that’s it making things tough on a lot of these teams out there.
BDK: ML Motorsports has been around for a good while, they’ve run a limited schedule in the Nationwide Series for a number of years. Is there any sort of plan in place to take it to a full-time deal, or is it a matter of a team doing what they know and doing it well?
SH: I think there is potential. It’s not that they don’t want to run the full schedule. If a sponsor came along, they’d definitely jump on it in a heartbeat. If we even started running in the top 5 every week I think you’d see us more. But, to start running in the top 5 takes a sponsor plus being at the racetrack every week. I guess the biggest key to that would be finding a sponsor that could help us get there.
BDK: Looking at this season and the way its progressing, what’s the biggest challenge you see facing the Nationwide Series as a whole?
SH: It would be the economy. Somehow they’re still getting good car counts every week. It really surprises me when we show up and there’s 50-some cars out. Everybody’s just trying to get to the racetrack, find sponsorships and stuff like that. I think I see everything starting to get a little better, at least from our position.
BDK: Last year, you had two very solid runs at Nashville. What are your expectations for the weekend?
SH: Our expectations are pretty high based on what we’ve done in the past. We’d like to unload off the trailer and be in the top 10, and I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t. Running in the top 10 all weekend is the goal, and unless something happens that’s out of our control I don’t see why we shouldn’t be there.
SH: I don’t really know. We hit on a little something there last year with our setup the first time we were there, then we went back and it worked. Honestly, I don’t think we’ll be just good at Nashville this year, I think we’ll run well a lot of places. But as for last year, I don’t know, I don’t have a good answer for that. We just seemed to gel there.
Bryan Davis Keith is the lead Nationwide Series writer for Frontstretch.com