TriStar Making Progress in Cup Return
By: Jeff Wackerlin - @JWackerlin Twitter and Instagram | MRN.com on April 13, 2017 | 10:15 A.M. EST
"It’s been hard, and I expect to have ups and downs. I didn’t expect the ups to be as good as they've been." (Photo: Getty Images)
Cole Whitt and TriStar Motorsports have put together solid finishes early in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, considering their circumstances.
It wasn’t until a few weeks before the season started at Daytona International Speedway that TriStar announced its return to the Cup Series for the first time since 2013. Seven races later, the one-car operation has three finishes of 21st or better in the infancy of the No. 72 team.
"It’s been hard, and I expect to have ups and downs. I didn’t expect the ups to be as good as they've been," Whitt said. "That’s something to be proud of and to hang our hat on. It’s a great start, but we need to be more consistent."
The team, which operates with less than 20 employees on the Cup side, doesn't have the luxury of simulation or help on data. It named NASCAR veteran Frank Kerr as crew chief, who last spent time with the organization's XFINITY Series program following a run in the Cup Series with other teams and drivers such as Marcos Ambrose, Bobby Labonte and David Gilliland.
"Frank has done a great job," Whitt said. "He's coming back to the Cup Series after a few years away. There are lots of rule changes and things are different. He's adapted and made these cars run well without having any tools to help him."
Although they started the year behind, TriStar leased a charter from Front Row Motorsports, which assisted them in getting their season started at Daytona. Both Whitt and Kerr were previous members of FRM.
"The Daytona thing wasn't too bad because they did a deal with Front Row where we could use one of their cars," Whitt said. "It was a car I ran with Front Row. If we didn’t do that, we would be so far behind. And even the way it was, we were still far behind."
So far, the mile-and-a-half tracks have been the team's Achilles heel. Whitt did run well at Atlanta Motor Speedway, finishing 20th, but that was a track where there was a lot of tire fall-off and they ended up having a good car on long runs.
At the half-mile Martinsville Speedway, Whitt was as high as eighth at one point in the race before finishing 21st. Considering he had to start 31st because weather cancelled qualifying, Whitt ended up posting a 23.4 average running position in the race - his best in that stat category on all non-restrictor plate tracks in 2017. The team will look to gain more ground with two consecutive short-track races coming up, at Bristol Motor Speedway and Richmond International Raceway, when the series returns following the Easter break.
The week off is a welcomed sight for TriStar as it continues to play catch-up, especially after the races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway and Auto Club Speedway.
"Getting through the western swing was hard," Whitt said. "We didn’t have cars to send out there. They just weren’t done. We were flying back and trying to work on our stuff for the next week to get ready to go to the next one; just a lot of back-and-forth, and a lot of late nights for the guys.
"We need the break. We need to build more cars and continue to improve on our program. It’s going to be hard here for a while. I think it will probably be the mid-part of the season where we'll probably be caught up and then we can continue to build on our program. Until then, we are just trying to get all the parts and pieces together."