The Reed Sorenson of this season is almost unrecognizable from the driver that was tooling around NASCAR just a couple of years ago.
No, it's not his boyish looks or easy smile that have undergone the transformation. Rather, it's the mind-set of the 25-year-old native of Georgia that is light years from its prior incarnation.
Sorenson heads into Friday's Feed the Children 300 race at Kentucky Speedway as the Nationwide Series points leader, a position that carries an added sense of appreciation for the former Cup Series driver.
The realistic thought of bringing home a NASCAR championship hadn't been part of Sorenson's thinking in recent seasons. After initially earning a full-time Cup Series ride with Ganassi Racing in 2006, Sorenson found himself cast aside by Richard Petty Motorsports just four years later when he failed to crack the top 20 in points during that time.
In taking a step back to the Nationwide Series last season, Sorenson has made advances in both his skill and confidence. He posted 21 top-10 finishes in 28 starts for Braun Racing in 2010 and already has seven top-fives in 17 starts this season for Turner Motorsports, which acquired Braun in the off-season.
More importantly, Sorenson celebrated his first series victory since 2007 when he won a wild finish at Road America in June after his teammate Justin Allgaier ran out of gas.
"As competitive as (NASCAR) is, you have to be with the right team at the right time and you'll look good and if you're with the wrong team at the wrong time, you won't," Sorenson said. "It is hard but that's what really makes the sport good. There are probably a lot of guys that were maybe not getting what they needed at the time but that's the way it is.
"You just have to keep on digging and when you have an opportunity to be in this sport, you give it all you got and hope it's enough."
Sorenson has certainly found an ideal home with Turner as his success has coincided with the burgeoning team's breakout.
In addition to Sorenson's nine-point edge over Elliott Sadler, his teammates Allgaier and Jason Leffler are fourth and fifth in the standings, respectively, with only 73 points separating the entire top five.
Though Turner did inherit a bit of ready-made product when it purchased Braun, the team switched from Toyota to Chevrolet, eliminating the chance of using any of the top performing cars from last season.
"We had to build all new cars and we still have to get through a lot of things," Sorenson said. "It's still a learning process for the whole team and we still have a lot of hard work ahead of us.
"Still, we have a lot of the same guys who were there when it was Braun so it's been good. I wouldn't use the word surprised, we expected to run good this year."
As much as a string of consistent runs is appreciated, the fact Sorenson now has a recent memory of what it feels like to drive into victory lane was without question a monumental boost.
The momentum from his first road-course win carried over into a third-place finish at Daytona last weekend. In three Nationwide starts at Kentucky Speedway, Sorenson has two top-five finishes including last year where he led 49 laps before bringing home a fifth-place finish.
"We still feel like we should have won a couple where we didn't, so it was nice to finally get that (win at Road America) in the end," Sorenson said. "There were plenty of times where we had the fastest car and didn't win the race. Kentucky has always been a great track for me as we almost got the win here last season."