Bristol native Monteith hopes for strong showing in Late Model race Saturday night

Jeff Bobo • Mar 19, 2009 at 12:00 AM

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Nate Monteith predicted his qualifying lap Thursday at Bristol Motor Speedway within slightly more than 2/100ths of a second before he had even left for the racetrack.

His lap time was good for 14th fastest in the starting lineup of Saturday night’s 100-lap UARA-Stars Late Model touring series race, an event scheduled as the finale of a long day of racing at BMS.

If the 27-year-old Bristol, Tenn., native’s prognostication abilities hold true, he should be sitting pretty good for what may be the most important race of his career.

BMS has hosted several Late Model touring series races over the past several years, but none on a night coinciding with a major NASCAR series race. Saturday’s 100-lap Late Model race will follow the Nationwide Series Scotts Turf Builder 300 and the Legends of NASCAR/celebrity race.

Like every driver entered in Saturday’s Late Model race, Monteith has aspirations for a NASCAR career. With every major NASCAR owner, driver and sponsor watching, this will be the 2008 Lonesome Pine Raceway track champion’s big chance to shine.

“I wouldn’t say it’s more pressure, just (motivation) with 100,000 people in the stands,” Monteith said. “Potential sponsors, and then all the Cup and Nationwide people in the infield. You never know what they’re looking at for a development deal or their next Nationwide or Truck driver.

“It’s a good way for them to look at a lot of talent here. And we don’t have to spend six figures to get some exposure.”

The Times-News followed Monteith throughout Thursday morning Late Model practice and qualifying. The track’s goal for Thursday was to get all the preliminaries for the Late Model race out of the way Thursday, and then stash the cars out of the way so that the NASCAR haulers could start moving in Thursday afternoon.

Monteith was among the Late Model drivers who tested at Bristol earlier this month. Out of 36 cars in attendance that day, he was 13th fastest, and he also found out his car wasn’t losing as much time on the long runs as the cars turning quicker times.

He’s predicting that the quickest qualifiers might not be as good in the race.

“I don’t put too much emphasis on qualifying here,” Monteith said prior to practice. “Our race pace is way better, and a lot of guys were falling off a lot worse than we were with older tires. In a 100-lap race, 50 laps into it you really see what’s going on.

“The really fast guys get out there and use their stuff up, and that’s when we start moving up.”

But things kind of went awry for him in the Thursday morning practice session. The car wasn’t getting through the corners nearly as good as it had in the test.

It was baffling for the team because every adjustment they tried only made the car worse.

It look about three-quarters of the test session, but Monteith’s crew chief, Bobby Hall, finally figured out what had happened. There’s a safety chain holding the rear end to the chassis so that when the car is jacked up it doesn’t separate from the car too much. When they jacked it up early in practice, that chain somehow got tangled up and was restricting spring and shock movement.

“When I’d hit the gas, it would put too much weight on the front, and it was causing me to push,” Monteith said. “When we figured it out, practice was almost over. But as soon as it was corrected, the car really started working good. Unfortunately we were right back to where we started when we rolled off the trailer and didn’t get to use practice to make improvements.”

Monteith was 17th fastest in the practice session, but he knew he’d pick up some time in qualifying trim. At the shop there’s a board on the wall where all the crewmen put $5 in a pool and guess his qualifying time.

Monteith said he’d predicted a 15.87, and he was pretty close. He qualified at 15.854. Monteith wasn’t as close as his “Papaw” Wayne Snow, however, who won the jackpot with a prediction of 15.84.

Certainly there aren’t any household names in Saturday’s Late Model race field of 36 cars, but in the world of local short track racing these are the best of the best.

On the pole was former UARA champion and Robert Yates Racing development driver Matt McCall with a 15.440 lap time.

Among the other potential future NASCAR stars in the field are fifth-place qualifier Coleman Pressley, son of former NASCAR star Robert Pressley; Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s two development drivers Richard Boswell (seventh) and Owen Kelly (ninth); Joe Gibbs Racing development driver Darrell Wallace Jr. (18th); Kyle Grissom (19th), son of former Nationwide champion Steve Grissom; and Brandon McReynolds (31st), the son of former NASCAR crew chief and current TV commentator Larry McReynolds.

And that’s not to mention the other local hopefuls including Caleb Holman (11th), Wade Day (21st), John King (26th), Caleb Roark (28th) and Keith Stiltner (30th).

Monteith said he was satisfied with his qualifying lap, although the felt he probably left another tenth of a second on the track. He dove too low in the corner on his “money lap” and scraped the apron a bit, which cost him a little time.

“I feel pretty good about where we’re at,” Monteith said. “That’s what we were shooting for, like around 10th to 12th spot, and we ended up 14th. We’re in the top half of the field, and it’s all good cars around me, so I don’t think I have to worry about anything. I’m good with that.”

Saturday’s UARA-Stars 100-lap race is scheduled to take the green flag at 7 p.m.

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