The 2006 NASCAR Nationwide Series rookie of the year was hoping to secure enough sponsorship for Saturday’s Scotts Turf Builder 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway to race flag to flag at his home track.
As of Tuesday, however, it was looking like it’ll be a start and park for O’Quinn and the D’Hondt- Humphrey Motorsports No. 90 Chevy.
With 50 teams entered in the race, seven cars won’t be fast enough to make the show, and the real race for O’Quinn this weekend is in qualifying Saturday morning. That will determine whether he gets paid this week.
O’Quinn’s employment situation in 2010 is a far cry from where he started his NASCAR career in 2006, when he drove top-dollar Roush Racing equipment on his way to the rookie of the year title.
In 2007 and 2008, O’Quinn drove sporadically and turned wrenches for various race teams until 2009, when he landed a full time Nationwide Series seat driving for the underfunded Johnny Davis Racing team.
Sitting 17th in the point standings, O’Quinn left the Davis team after the Bristol race in August because he and the car owner weren’t getting along. Since then, he has been start and parking in the Nationwide series.
It’s not the ideal situation, but as O’Quinn said earlier this week, at least he’s got a job.
“We’re working really hard to put some sponsorship together, but until that comes together we’re at least going to be at the track,” O’Quinn said. “It’s good for me. It keeps me in a job, and keeps me fresh driving. It’s still good experience being out there each week and staying fresh so that when we do get some money to run full races we’ve got a functional race team and we’re ready to run hard right off the bat.
“I probably could have found something working in a shop, but as a driver it’s better to be out here start and parking than it is working in as shop. In NASCAR, when you’re out of sight you’re out of mind.”
No one has ever doubted O’Quinn’s driving ability, but finding sponsorship money has been his Achilles’ heel throughout his NASCAR career.
In 2007, after he won rookie of the year, Jack Roush was unable to find O’Quinn a sponsor and eventually he was released from the team.
And that was before the economy hit the skids. These days, full-time sponsorship dollars are even less plentiful.
On a bright note, O’Quinn managed to stay in the top 20 in driver points after leaving Davis Racing last year, despite start and parking the final third of the season. That earned him the driver’s share of a $100,000 bonus.
And with D’Hondt-Humphrey Motorsports, he’ll be at the track attempting to qualify for races every week in the foreseeable future.
“I was really hoping to run the full Bristol race this week, because we ran so well there last August,” O’Quinn said. “If nothing else, I want to come back in August with a good deal and hopefully be able to run the truck and the Nationwide races. A lot can happen between now and then, and we’re ready to get out and be competitive as soon we find a sponsor willing to invest in us.”