Kentucky Speedway

Coleman cautious on wayto Cup

SPARTA — The last thing Brad Coleman wants to become is that guy.

The guy who is rushed into NASCAR's premier level of racing at the first sign of promise. The guy who suddenly finds himself searching for a ride when the results don't materialize as quickly as eager sponsors and owners would like.

“I don't want to be one of those drivers that gets moved up too quickly and everyone is like ‘Yep, he couldn't do it' and gets moved straight back down,” said the 20-year-old Nationwide Series driver, who heads into Saturday's Meijer 300 at Kentucky Speedway 17th in the points standings. “I want to get as much experience as I can so I'm ready to go (into the Sprint Cup Series).”

So when the powerful Joe Gibbs Racing squad told Coleman they could offer him only a partial ride as part of their Nationwide program for 2008, the Texas native had a pivotal decision to make.

And instead of staying with the resource-laden team that gave him his start and instant success, Coleman opted to go with the more taxing option in hopes of reaping long-term benefits.

Despite a rookie season that had many tabbing him as a Cup star of the future, Coleman left perennial stalwart Gibbs for the more modest Baker Curb Racing team at the end of the 2007 Nationwide season when the latter offered him the full-time ride he adamantly sought.

Considering that patience often takes a backseat to impulsion in the world of NASCAR, Coleman's decision to forgo a high-profile ride for the sake of experience is notable for its rarity.

But after seeing what too much too soon can do to an upstart driver, Coleman said, he knew gaining seat time was paramount to his quest of one day earning — and keeping — the prestigious ride he hopes to have.

“With (Cup driver) Kyle Busch coming into Gibbs, he wanted to do a lot of Nationwide races and Gibbs ... said I could have 17 races, but that's what I did last year,” said Coleman. “Everyone strives to be at the Cup level, but I needed to do this full series of Nationwide to learn what it's like and be racing every weekend.

“Last year, I'd do a race and have four weeks off. That's pretty relaxing, but now I'm racing every weekend. It's tough, but Sprint Cup is even tougher so I had to do this full schedule just so I could prepare myself.”

Given the way he performed his rookie season, Coleman could have easily fallen into the trap of thinking he had the skills to jump to the next level.

During his 17 starts in 2007, Coleman notched five top-10 efforts and three top-five runs. That includes a career-best second-place finish behind longtime friend Stephen Leicht at last year's Meijer 300.

It was Leicht's misfortune, however, that emphasized to Coleman how precious opportunities were. Leicht was left without a full-time ride after Robert Yates Racing closed down its Nationwide program to focus on Sprint Cup.

“This is the only sport where talent guarantees you nothing,” Coleman said. “You've got to have financial backing from a sponsor or a rich ancestor or whatever it takes. I'm truly blessed to be in the opportunity I am now because … if there is no sponsor, you're not going to go racing. You just have to make sure your sponsors love you so that they'll do whatever they can to keep you in the car.”

While Coleman has recorded only one top-10 effort in 15 starts this year, his average finish of 24.0 is just slightly off his average of 20.0 from 2007.

And as far as that Cup appearance he has been prepping himself for? That could come before the year is out, as Coleman is scheduled to make seven starts for Hall of Fame Racing.

“I'm learning about the Cup drivers' styles, how they race, how they make it around you, maybe where their weaknesses are,” Coleman said.

“There are very few weakness with those guys so it's really hard. But I could be in school right now or I could be doing this, and I'd much rather be doing this.”