ABINGDON — Eric McClure grew up only a few miles away from his home track of Bristol Motor Speedway, but he certainly hasn’t enjoyed competing on the home turf in recent years.
In eight previous NASCAR Nationwide Series starts, the Abingdon native crashed three times and never finished better than five laps off the pace.
Of course, one good race could change his attitude toward Bristol, and Saturday afternoon McClure needs it more than ever in the Scotts Turfbuilder 300.
One of the main goals for McClure and his No. 24 Hefty sponsored Rensi-Hamilton Motorsports Ford is to remain locked into the starting lineup.
By finishing the 2009 season inside the top 30 in owner points, McClure is locked into the starting lineup of the first five races of 2010. After race number five on April 3 in Nashville, the list of teams locked into the starting lineup reverts to the 2010 top 30 in owner points.
With 37 race teams attempting to make every race in 2010, the competition level is tougher this year than it’s been in a long time. That means it’s going to be harder for the lesser funded teams like McClure’s to stay in the top 30 and avoid having to qualify for races as a go-or-go-home driver.
In the first three races of 2010, he’s earned finishes of 17th, 31st and 21st respectively, good enough for 23rd in the points.
A bad race at Bristol or at Nashville in two weeks could put him on the bubble for becoming a go-or-go-home driver, however.
“Staying it the top 30 is a top priority for us because it ensures our survival to a certain extent,” McClure said. “Anything can happen this early in the season, and you can make huge point swings one way or another in a matter of just a week or two. We started the year out OK with good races in two out of the three.”
McClure added, “But we’ve got to get through this week. Bristol is not my favorite place to go to. I was just looking at my past results there, and it’s really nothing to write home about. If we get through Bristol with a decent finish I feel good about the next stretch of race tracks.”
For years, McClure has been lumped among the slowest cars in the Nationwide Series every week. But at times in 2009 and early this season he has moved up to the next level where he’s fighting for top 20s and top 15s on a regular basis.
He said the team as a whole is getting better, but more importantly the driver is getting better, and he feels that first career top 10 finish could be in his sights.
He had a top 10 in his sights last month in the season opener at Daytona, riding as high as ninth with less than 10 laps to go. He didn’t get the jump he needed on the final restart, however, and slipped back to 17th. Still, it was a good day.
He needs another good day Saturday at Bristol. It doesn’t have to be a top 10, but he definitely needs a good finish at his home track.
“We really need a top-20 finish, and a lot of that is going to be on my shoulders to be better than I have been there,” McClure said. “As far as equipment is concerned, we have what we have and it’s as good as it’s going to get. The only place left for us to improve is with the driver, and that’s what I’m really focussed on.”
This is the fourth season for McClure driving under the Hefty trash bag colors.
This weekend, however, he’s getting some associate sponsor support from Food City.
He’ll also be available for pictures and autographs Friday evening at Food city Race Night on the BMS grounds.