Some drivers head to a new ride expecting immediate success, while others realize their teams are works in progress.
For Jeff Green, it was a little of both.
Entering the 2002 campaign, Green had made a total of 58 Winston Cup starts for more than a half-dozen teams, never running more than 22 races in a season.
But Green showed his on-track ability by winning the 2000 Busch title after finishing second to Dale Earnhardt Jr. the previous year.
So while Green had an impressive NASCAR resumé, Winston Cup success wasn't a part of it, making it difficult to predict how Green would perform in Richard Childress' No. 30 Chevrolet.
Green finished 25th or worse in four of the first six races of 2002, leaving him 29th in points after the Food City 500 at Bristol, Tenn. But the team found some consistency over the next 21 races, and Green has finished outside the top-25 just five times in that span, moving him up to 18th in points (he had been as high as 17th before last weekend's 26th-place finish at Loudon, N.H.).
"It's taken us a little longer than I expected and Todd (Berrier, crew chief) and anyone of the guys on the AOL car expected to get up to the top-5 where we need to be," Green said. "We knew we had the ingredients, we just had to shake it up a little bit and make it work."
Green's improvement has coincided with that of his RCR teammates. Robby Gordon has improved to 20th in points after sitting 31st following the Samsung/Radio Shack 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, the seventh race of the season. Kevin Harvick, meanwhile, has jumped from 35th to 21st in points in his last 13 races.
Despite the pronounced turnaround which has featured seven top-12 finishes in the last 12 races, Green still isn't quite where he wants to be -- Victory Lane.
"I think we're getting better, no doubt. But we haven't won yet. And until we win, we're not good enough yet," said Green, whose best finish of the year was a second-place at Loudon in July. "These guys work really hard each and every week. All these teams, not just mine. They thrive on getting better each and every week. I don't think you can ever get ahead or ever be good enough. If you ever get good enough, I think it's time to do something different."
Green did make eight starts for Childress in 2001, scoring one top-10 finish. But this has been the season for Green and his team to adjust to a full-time Winston Cup ride and put the team in position to improve.
"This Winston Cup series is new to me and the guys on the team," he said. "There a Busch team, too. Over the last couple of years they were (Kevin) Harvick's team. So they're learning, Todd's learning how to call the race. He's learning me more and I'm learning him more, so it's making it a little bit easier on us.
The series heads to Dover, Del., this weekend for the MNBA All-American Heroes 400. Green had a tough day at Dover in June, finishing 38th after qualifying 35th. But the team is returning to some tracks in the final nine races of the year at which they scored decent finishes the first time around, including Talladega (16th), Charlotte (20th), Martinsville (22nd) and Rockingham (17th).
And in these nine races to the finish, Green is hoping the No. 30 team can reach a couple of goals that will keep them moving in the right direction.
"(We need to) be more competitive. Be more consistent. We've been competitive just about each and every weekend. But we need to put ourselves in the top 10 and top-five each and every week to be able to win these things," said Green, who has three top-fives this season, all in the last 12 races. "Sure, every once in a while you can slip up and maybe get in victory lane, but we want to be able to win a championship in the next couple of years."
"Hopefully (we'll) have a shot at it next year, even. And if we keep putting ourselves in contention to win races, we'll get a lot of points that way. And that's the way you win championships."
Green already has that Busch title in his pocket, but there's obviously a considerable difference between AAA and the big leagues, and Winston Cup success is exactly what Green is looking for.
"I think all of us as drivers grew up wanting to be the best of the best and this is the best right here (in Winston Cup)," he said. "We're working really hard to try to be the best of them. I think we conquered that in the Busch series where everybody followed you around looking to beat you that particular weekend.
"So that's what I'm wanting to be. I want to ... know each and every week I have a shot to win. I think we're getting close to that, but right now we're still not there. Like I keep reminding myself this is the best of the best. To beat these guys week in and week out, you've really done your job."
Green is reaching for a status which he says nobody currently holds.
"I don't think anybody can come in here yet and do it each and every week. So we want to be the guy who does that."