Slow and steady, Bires making most of accelerated learning curve

Updated: June 24, 2008

AP Photo/Gerry Broome

It's been a bang-up year for Kelly Bires, top, but not for all the right reasons.

Heading to New Hampshire a year ago, Kelly Bires was preparing to make just his fourth career Nationwide Series start. At the time, he was just filling in for Jon Wood, and wasn't sure if Wood would return to the No. 47 Ford, sending Bires back to the Craftsman Truck Series.

When Wood was ready to return to racing, the decision was made at JTG Racing that Bires would stay in the Nationwide Series, with Wood taking over the team's truck series entry. Bires made the most of an accelerated learning curve, even if he recorded just two top-10 finishes in his 19 starts.

Statistically, Bires has yet to become a force on a weekly basis, but he did post a career-best fifth-place finish at Nashville back in March. Four DNFs in a five-race span earlier in the year have buried Bires in 14th in points following an 11th-place run at Milwaukee, but the driver sees progress.

"We've definitely made our cars a lot better from this time last year until now. Everyone at JTG Racing has been working hard," the 23-year-old Bires said. "But this year has been a lot better. We've been consistent. I'd say we have a 10th-place car week in and week out. Sometimes we've been better than that, sometimes we've been worse. We're just trying to get better each and every week."

It's been a hectic year for JTG, which ended its relationship with Wood Brothers Racing on the competition side prior to the season. Since the year started, teammate Marcos Ambrose has swapped crew chiefs and the team has, at least temporarily, closed its Craftsman Truck Series team. And Brad Daugherty, a former team owner turned broadcaster, has bought into the team.

Through it all, Bires is still seeing some tracks for the first time, as will be the case with Montreal and Watkins Glen later this summer. Following the five-race stretch that included a transmission failure at Mexico City and three races in which he was involved in race-ending wrecks, he's finished no worse than 19th the past four weeks.

"We started the year off really well. Week in and week out we had really fast race cars," Bires said. "In the middle part of the season, we still had fast cars, or the last two months, I'd say starting with Mexico City, we had fast race cars but we couldn't get the result that we needed.

"Performance-wise we were running anywhere from 10th to fifth to 12th. We were running there every week. We had transmissions breaking. We've been caught on pit road under green-flag pit stops, just bad racing luck. It's not anyone's fault of it happening. That stuff happened to us -- there was a good four or five weeks straight that really put us behind in points -- but our goal is to get back into the top 10 in points and that's what we're working on from now until the rest of the year."

Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at ESPN. He can be reached at mark.ashenfelter@espn.com.

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Logano On Hold

Joey Logano

Logano

It would make a great story if Joey Logano were to have a successful run at New Hampshire, but the 18-year-old isn't entered in Saturday's race. Tony Stewart is in Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 20 Toyota, a decision made at the start of the year based on Stewart's Old Spice sponsorship.

Kyle Busch will be in the team's No. 18 entry, while Denny Hamlin will be in Braun Racing's No. 32. Logano is also slated to miss the races at Daytona (where he's yet to be approved to race by NASCAR) and at Chicagoland. Logano will return to the No. 20 Camry at Gateway International Raceway on July 19.

Braun Grateful For Second Chance

Colin Braun

Braun

Colin Braun's focus is on the Craftsman Truck Series, but the 19-year-old Roush Fenway Racing driver has made three Nationwide Series starts for the team, including a 21st-place finish at Milwaukee. He overcame contact in two separate incidents to finish on the lead lap. Braun, who won the pole for the race in Mexico City, is grateful for the chance to begin learning what things are like at this level.

Milwaukee was the first time he got to try double duty, as he ran the truck race Friday and then the Nationwide race the next evening. He's had races at Daytona and O'Reilly Raceway Park added to his schedule.

"I'm not really sure why Jack [Roush] decided to do that. I don't know if he was in a good mood that day or what," Braun said with a smile. "I'm certainly happy to have those races [added].

"… It's really cool for me to get a chance to go and do these races that are on the same weekend. That's just a big help. Being a rookie and all, it's a huge help to back the next night and get a chance to run."

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