Toledo: TSR/Curb-Agajanian preview

LEVI JONES & BRYAN CLAUSON Tony Stewart Racing/Curb-Agajanian Drivers Look To Capture 2010 USAC Silver Crown Series Championship INDIANAPOLIS (Oct. 14, 2010) -- When you've got two of the best drivers in USAC Racing in your corner, ...

Toledo: TSR/Curb-Agajanian preview

Tony Stewart Racing/Curb-Agajanian Drivers Look To Capture 2010 USAC Silver Crown Series Championship

INDIANAPOLIS (Oct. 14, 2010) -- When you've got two of the best drivers in USAC Racing in your corner, championship-caliber seasons seem to fall into place more often than not. After last weekend's emotional Sumar Classic, in which Tony Stewart Racing's (TSR) dynamic duo of Levi Jones and Bryan Clauson finished 1-2, the TSR/Curb-Agajanian effort finds itself with a doubly potent shot at winning the 2010 USAC Silver Crown Series title. Next up for Jones and Clauson is Saturday's season finale -- the Rollie Beale 150 at Toledo (Ohio) Speedway.

Jones, pilot of the No. 10 Curb Records/Armor All/Bass Pro Shops/Beast, trails series leader Bud Kaeding by a single point heading into Saturday's season-ending event while Clauson, driver of the No. 22 Curb Records/Armor All/Bass Pro Shops/Beast, is in fourth place, 49 points back of Kaeding. Both Jones and Clauson will be making their first Silver Crown appearances at the half-mile paved Toledo oval.

Jones, who is wrapping up his third full season of USAC Silver Crown competition, earned his second and season-high Silver Crown victory at the Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track last Saturday. The victory was an emotional one for Jones as one of his best friends and fellow competitors, Shane Hmiel, was critically injured while qualifying for the event. Jones also won the series opener at USA Raceway in Tucson, Ariz., in February to kick off the season. Heading into the Rollie Beale 150, Jones carries three series pole awards, four top-five finishes and five top-10s with him. In addition to sitting second in the Silver Crown standings, Jones also leads the USAC National Sprint Car Series standings and is second behind Silver Crown teammate Clauson in the USAC National Drivers Championship rankings.

Meanwhile, Clauson will wrap up his first full season of Silver Crown competition at Toledo. Thus far in 2010, he's earned one victory at Tony Stewart's Eldora Speedway on Sept. 25. Clauson has three top-five and three top-10 finishes in all, as well as one pole award earned at Berlin Raceway in Marne, Mich., in August. The current National Drivers Championship leader is also on top of the USAC National Midget Series standings. He trails Jones in the National Sprint Car Series division by 91 points heading into the final month of racing action.

Clauson's Silver Crown victory at Eldora in September was his first career series win and also catapulted team owner Stewart into the spotlight as the series' winningest team owner. Jones' Silver Crown triumph on Oct. 9 put Stewart and TSR clearly ahead of the field with 25 victories as a series owner. If Jones or Clauson can win the Silver Crown title this weekend, it will mark Stewart's fifth such triumph as an owner and first with co-entrant Curb-Agajanian. Stewart captured four consecutive Silver Crown titles from 2002-2005 as a co-owner with Bob East. Drivers in that era included TSR alumnus J.J. Yeley, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kasey Kahne, and USAC champion Dave Steele.

With a racing history spanning much of the past 70 years, the Curb-Agajanian contingent also has seen decades of success in the Silver Crown Series. The partnership between Mike Curb and the Agajanian family has seen drivers such as Bobby Olivero, Brad Noffsinger and Tyler Walker win races under the Curb-Agajanian banner. The three victories that Jones and Clauson have combined for in 2010 are their most recent triumphs. Other drivers to compete in the Silver Crown Series for Curb-Agajanian include Jason Leffler, Kahne, Boston Reid and Josh Wise.

Levi Jones, Driver of the No. 10 Curb Records/Armor All/Bass Pro Shops/Beast:

With the 2010 season marking only your third full season of USAC Silver Crown Series competition, how does it feel to be in contention to win the championship this weekend at Toledo Speedway?

"It feels really good to have a chance at winning the title. We went into this year really wanting to try to do everything we could to win the Silver Crown championship and win races. We've accomplished the winning races part. We've won two races and that's more than anyone else in the series so far this year. We're excited about what we've learned about the pavement car over the season and we're really happy to have a chance to win both the race and the championship this weekend in Toledo. It would be an awesome way to cap the season for both TSR and our partners, Curb Records, Armor All and Bass Pro Shops."

You were able to put your first Silver Crown victory in the books this season at USA Raceway in February at Tucson, Ariz., and followed it up with a victory at the Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track last Saturday. What marked the turning point within the team where things really came together?

"I don't know that it's necessarily any one thing that's made the team really gel where the Silver Crown program is concerned. We're only running 10 or so Silver Crown races a year and it feels like we're running 100-plus Sprint car races, so you've really got a limited amount of time to work on the Silver Crown program. We looked at making things smoother in preparation and I think it's really carried over to the track at the races this year."

The car you're competing in at Toledo this weekend is the same car you ran second with at O'Reilly Raceway Park in July. Does that add to your comfort level heading into the season finale on Saturday?

"This is the same car we ran at ORP in July and I'm really confident in it. We were really good at ORP. We were actually good in August at Berlin Raceway in Marne, Mich., with this car and just had a right-front-tire issue. We were able to come in and pit and get back out to finish the race with the leaders for the last 60 laps or so. We've made a few little changes and, over the past couple of months, we feel we've been able to find little things that have helped to fine-tune all of our racecars. The team feels like it's really just getting going and hitting a stride whereas, in the past, it's felt like we've just been hanging on to get through to the end of the season."

This Saturday's race at Toledo Speedway is 150 laps in length, the longest race of the 2010 season. On a track that is known for being difficult for passing, do you see fatigue playing a part in the outcome?

I don't think fatigue will be a factor for us. I'm confident our cars are ready to race 500 laps if they had to. I don't think that's going to be an issue for us. But, Toledo is notorious for being pretty quick for the Sprint cars and Midgets. The last Sprint car race there this summer showed us the track's lost some grip, and that made passing a little easier. Hopefully, we'll be able to take the experience we've gained in our Sprint car at Toledo this year and make it work for us. Bud (Kaeding) hasn't run the Sprint car at Toledo this season, so we're hoping we'll be a few steps ahead of him right off the bat this Saturday in qualifying."

Coming off an emotional win at the Terre Haute last weekend, your attention has also been on the recovery of your close friend, Shane Hmiel, and the impending birth of your first child. Has it been difficult to focus on preparing for this weekend's championship run?

I've definitely been on an emotional rollercoaster this week. From thinking I lost one of my best friends and winning the race at Terre Haute, to my wife getting ready to have a baby at any time, and now having a shot to win the Silver Crown championship, all in the past six days, it's been a ride. Driving the racecar will definitely be the easiest thing I've done in the past week. I'm looking forward to getting back in the car. It will be the most constant place (in the driver's seat) that I've been in all week. It's been a really emotional week and I'm hoping we can win the championship Saturday night. It would be great to be able to share that with Shane and his family, as well as with my soon-to-be-expanding family and the TSR team."

Do you and your wife, Heidi, have any names picked out for your baby boy?

"I loved the movie, Rad, when I was a kid. It was released in the 1980s and was about BMX bike competition. I love the main character's name, Cru Jones. Ironically, the soundtrack for that movie was released by Curb Records in 1986. We'll have to see when he gets here as to what we finally decide to name him."

Bryan Clauson, Driver of the No. 22 Curb Records/Armor All/Bass Pro Shops/Beast:

With this being your first Silver Crown season, how does it feel to enter Saturday's race at Toledo in contention to win the championship?

"It's really been a learning experience going throughout the year. Sitting here with one race to go and having a shot at the title is definitely a testament to how we've come a long way since the first half of the year. Everyone at TSR has worked really hard on improving, and it's been a great second half of the season. Obviously, there are a few races at the beginning of the season we'd like to have back that could've given us a better shot at the championship, but that's part of the learning process. To sit here with one race to go and to have a shot at it is pretty incredible."

The first half of the season was a bit rocky for the No. 22 Curb/Armor All/Bass Pro Shops team, but you were able to turn things around during the second half of the year. What was the turning point, and what finally clicked to make things come together?

"I think we just needed a couple of good runs. We'd been on the brink of having some success. We'd had some good cars early in the year. But we couldn't quite finish where we wanted. We had a good run up at Berlin Raceway in August and, from there, we've been really good every night. I think it's just been a case where we've all come of age, so to speak. The team figured some things out and, for my part, it's been working with the crew to be able to communicate with them what I need in the car. That's all part of the process of working with a new team and competing in a new series. It's a great feeling to know we're part of the championship chase heading into Toledo."

Any time you compete in a new type of racecar, there is always a learning curve. What was the biggest adjustment you had to make as a driver to get comfortable in a USAC Silver Crown Series car?

"Silver Crown cars are just a lot bigger than Sprint cars and Midgets. With the weight difference from the other types of cars we race, they're overweight and underpowered in comparison. Sprint cars and Midgets are the opposite. They're really light and have tons of power, which helps you drive out of trouble. It's been an adjustment on my part, not only the cars but running these types of cars on 1-mile and half-mile tracks. We had a lot of learning to do this year and you don't get a lot of practice before qualifying, especially on the 1-mile tracks. Not having the practice time has been tough on us in terms of me getting comfortable. It was a lot of learning on the fly, but I think the TSR team has done a great job of adapting all around."

The car you'll be driving at Toledo this weekend has seen some recent success, including a pole award in August. What preparations and changes has the team made to make sure the string of successful races continues?

"The car I'm competing in this weekend is the same one we set quick time with at Berlin Raceway in August. The team has really just gone through it well and tried to make it foolproof for Toledo. Levi's had some good runs in the pavement Sprint car in the past few months and we're hoping to draw from what the team has learned from those races and use those notes as a starting point. We're hoping to have a good enough set-up package to qualify well and put ourselves in a good position to start the race from. With the race being 150 laps, that's a long time and you have to be on the lead lap at the end to really have a shot and, from there, it's in our hands. We'll work hard in practice to see what we can learn and use it to make sure we're there at the end. Finishing the race is the key. It's hard to make up points sitting on the sidelines."

The championship chase focus at last Saturday's race at Terre Haute was dampened following the crash that your friend and fellow competitor, Shane Hmiel, was involved in. Was it difficult to put the evening in focus?

"It was a tough night for everyone. Anytime you have something like that happen, it's really tough to do your job. I think everyone's head and heart was in Indianapolis with Shane once he left the track. It was just a really tough situation. I'm close with the Hmiel family from my time racing stock cars. They're great people. I'm very glad to hear things are moving in a positive direction for Shane's recovery. I wish him and his family nothing but the best as he continues to recover from his injuries."

Toledo Speedway is a place that has been known for being difficult to pass. How will qualifying and the additional length of the feature play into strategy?

"Qualifying is very important at a place like Toledo. I think fans will see more passing with long runs and as cars start to fall off the pace. Usually, around lap 50, or at the halfway point in the Silver Crown races, you see cars fall out as drivers start to use their stuff up. We usually run a lot of short races, so we'll definitely have to factor longer runs into things for Saturday. I think qualifying will be really important in terms of track position and to try to save your car a little bit for later in the race. I also think we'll be able to move around and pass quite a bit around lap 50 or 60 of the race. I wouldn't say qualifying badly will be a race-breaker but it will definitely make our job a lot easier if we can qualify well."

Tony Stewart Racing/Curb-Agajanian Racing has had a successful first year together as co-owners of the cars that you and your teammate, Levi Jones, drive in the Silver Crown Series. What would it mean to win your first series title under the TSR/Curb banner?

"It would be really special to win the title being partnered with Tony Stewart Racing, Curb Records and with my affiliation to Cary (Agajanian) and the Motorsports Management International (MMI) group. They've been part of my career from the very beginning and, to win a championship not only with their name associated with it but with Armor All, Bass Pro Shops and Tony Stewart as my owner, would be really special. Everyone involved is part of a great organization and I'd love nothing more than to be able to win a championship being affiliated with all of these great organizations and brands."

-source: tsr

Shane Hmiel medical update 2010-10-12
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