In just his second full season in the Sprint Cup Series, Cole Whitt is still learning the ropes in NASCAR’s premier series. The 23-year-old has only one full-time season under his belt, but is now with his third organization.
Moving to Front Row Motorsports for the 2015 season, Whitt believes his new teammates David Ragan and David Gilliland will help his transition to the organization and his continued learning process.
"I think having David and David together is going to be a huge help," Whitt told FOXSports.com. "They’re guys that have been to these tracks time and time again, so they know their lift points, they know where they can drive to. So I can use them as a better reference and learn more off them than last year, better than shooting in the dark and hoping for the best."
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Through it all, Whitt has continued support from sponsor Speed Stick Gear, something that has allowed him to remain at the sport’s highest level.
"I can’t say enough about Speed Stick," he said. "I wouldn’t be here without them. It just wouldn’t be possible. You can kind of say they’ve made my career, that’s how important those things are."
Eager to move past Daytona, he realizes the team has much work to do in the early stages of the 2015 season.
Expanding to three cars this year, Whitt believes things are stretched thin at Front Row Motorsports, and he is doing all he can to step up and help fill roles within the team. During the two-day break earlier this week, Whitt travelled back to the shop to help prepare the team’s car for next week’s race in Atlanta.
"We were really thrashed to get down here, and we’ll be really thrashed to get to Atlanta, too," he said. "Our team’s a little bit short on people right now. We just didn’t quite get the full team put together coming down here. We’re short a car chief right now, so I’m trying to step up and fill the leadership role."
Whitt admits the move to three cars has added stress on the employees and probably was not the ideal situation.
While the team swapped owner points from Ragan’s No. 34 to Whitt’s No. 35 during the offseason, it was not to ensure Whitt’s starting spot in the Daytona 500. According to Whitt, the organization was unsure if it would be a two-car team or a three-car team, and his deal came together before Ragan’s.
Still, there was no guarantee Whitt would have a spot in the 43-car field. During Sunday’s group qualifying session, Whitt posted just the 45-fastest lap, requiring him to race into the Daytona 500 through Thursday’s Budweiser Duel.
"I was nervous about myself," Whitt said of his mentality approaching the Duel. "New car, new team, new stuff. You’re learning a lot of new things and it puts you on edge, because there’s a lot of unknowns."
Given the unpredictability of racing at Daytona, Whitt explains he has a love-hate relationship with restrictor-plate racing.
"I don’t enjoy restrictor-plate racing as much as I do enjoy it," he said. "It can be very frustrating, but at the same time we know it can be a great opportunity to have a great finish. We kind of thrive on these kinds of events, but at the same time — as far as a driver — I hate them. You can try to control your situation, but you’re still at the mercy of people around you."
Finishing 10th in the first Budweiser Duel, Whitt was able to accomplish his goal and get the season started off on the right foot.
"Our whole season starts right here," said Whitt. "Each one of these races is like a chapter in a book, and if you miss that chapter it makes it much harder to finish that book."
In addition to getting the season started off right, the payoff at the end of Sunday’s race provides a huge boost to an independent team like Front Row Motorsports.
"To get all three cars in, we’re going to start on Sunday, that sets the tone for our whole season," he said.
Looking past Daytona, Whitt’s goals for the 2015 season is to finish inside the top 25 in the series standings at the end of the year.
"It sounds like an easy, attainable goal, but, man, there’s such a difference between 33rd in points in points and 25th in points," he said. "A difference in millions of dollars. It’s crazy. To get up there and maybe beat a few of those cars, that would be huge for us."