|ALL PHOTOS: Brock Beard|
Among the thirteen drivers who missed the field for Sunday’s 150-lap main event during the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum, perhaps none turned more heads than Cody Ware and the Rick Ware Racing team.
Debuting a sleek black variant of his familiar Nurtec ODT #51 as part of a new technical alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing, Ware ran as high as 6th in opening practice and outpaced his teammate, modified champion Ryan Preece, by nearly a full tenth of a second. An early draw of 5th in qualifying left him in the back of the field for Heat Race #3, where he muscled past Corey LaJoie and opened up a gap by the end of the 25-lap affair. This culminated in the First Last Chance Qualifier, where Ware was in a tight battle for the final transfer spot for most of the 50 laps. He was still within striking distance of 3rd-place A.J. Allmendinger when the checkered flag dropped, just short of transferring into the big show.
After returning to the garage area, I caught up with Cody to talk about his weekend.
“It's just really overall been a dream coming true to start to see the early stages of the alliance with Ford and Stewart-Haas come to fruition,” he said. “Obviously, we had great pace in practice yesterday. So, from the beginning of the weekend, we've just been having a lot of fun reaping the benefits of this new alliance and this new car. And then we struggled in qualifying - we just were one of the first cars out, so it is what it is there. But to be able to come out in the heat races and then the Last Chance Qualifier and race with the best guys in the sport.”
“And coming up one spot shy was very bittersweet. I've never been so happy and torn up at the same time, just because it's a testament to our speed and how far we've come. But it's also - when you're right there within arm's reach of being in the big show. And being at the Clash. It was really, really heartbreaking. But I'm still very thankful for what we have. And it has me really, really excited going into the Daytona 500 and the rest of the season.”
|Ware (center) racing Allmendinger for the last transfer spot.|
While still a relative newcomer to the Cup Series – just 55 points-paying Cup starts since 2016 – Ware was able to tap into some experience on quarter-mile tracks. “I've probably run a dozen or so modified races at Bowman Gray, so I've got a little bit of quarter mile racing experience. Obviously, this still is a bit of a different animal compared to Bowman Gray, but driving a full-size car, your full-bodied car compared to an open wheel modified. But I think that definitely helped me to know how to keep my head cool when things get crazy and dicey, like they always do on a quarter mile.”
Teammate Ryan Preece also proved invaluable. “Yeah, 100%. I mean, to have a modified champion - a top tier driver, and in every series, a race winner in XFINITY - to be teamed up with us, and here at the Clash was really helpful. Obviously, he's a fantastic driver, but also really good with the mechanics and the engineering side of the cars as well. So, to get his feedback and look over data with him and try to improve my craft as well - all in all, from every facet from the race team, to the drivers we're bringing on board, we're trying to elevate, and I think we've made that good first impression coming out here to Los Angeles.”
I asked if this weekend’s race changed his expectations for the upcoming 2022 season. “I don't know if this this is what we were expecting. I think that what it does do is it does give me a lot of confidence as a driver going into the next handful of races. Obviously, a little bit of uncertainty is kind of off the table. Now we know that we're getting a lot of good information from Stewart-Haas and from Ford. Obviously, with the engines as well, going to Daytona, you want to have good power. So, to have the Ford lease engine program behind us is going to be big. And we were down there with Stewart-Haas at the Daytona test just last month and so to be able to work off of that and know that we've got a really good car for the 500, I'm excited to see what we can get done in qualifying and heading into race day.”