Making it to the top tier is the target for every motorsports driver starting out in the NASCAR industry. And the first race is always a special feeling that drivers cherish throughout their lives.
Cup drivers reflecting on their first Cup start confirm this point.
For Chase Elliott, who made his first Cup start at Martinsville Speedway on March 29, 2015, it was one of the biggest opportunities of his life.
“Just a lot of excitement … obviously one of the biggest opportunities of my life. I remember going into that weekend and it was supposed to rain on Friday and it did and we didn’t have any points. So if it rained out qualifying, we weren’t going to be able to race. I just remember really stressing about it raining. I was more worried about that than anything.”
While it would certainly be cherishable when drivers remember it back, but to live in this moment of making your first start doesn’t go well for every driver. For Kurt Busch, he had to learn the harsh reality of racing and competition in his first start.
“When the race started, everybody just took off. They were going so fast. ‘Where is everyone going?’ I thought these races were 400 miles and we’re going to take our time. I kid you not.
“I was so intimidated when I started that race. Bobby Labonte goes blowing by. Dale Jarrett. Jeff Gordon. (Dale) Senior. Everybody.
“I radioed to my crew and I said: ‘Just tell me when I’m 43rd. Just tell me when I’m last.’ … A few laps later, I’m last. When I was a rookie in a Legends race, they make you start in the back, and that mentally made me reset, and then I just started chipping away on trying to make passes and got back up to 18th, two laps down.”
Denny Hamlin knew from the start that Cup racing was for him. All in all, it was a fun experience for him.
“Just a fun experience. I knew when I got in the big horsepower car vs. being in the Xfinity Series that this car fits me better.”
Racing in the Cup Series was a learning experience for Kyle Busch who incorporated it in his regular Xfinity career then.
“Just remembered that as a big learning experience and trying to set the tone in racing in the Xfinity Series for the rest of the year, racing for a championship. Those races I could learn from and kind of recalibrate where I was in my development.”