NASCAR: Stremme steps back, looks forward
By Chris Jenkins
WEST ALLIS, Wis. ó David Stremme decided the only way to rebuild his racing reputation was to throw his career into reverse.
After losing his Sprint Cup ride at the end of last season, Stremme turned down other opportunities to drive in NASCARís top series in 2008. Instead, heís racing for Rusty Wallaceís team in the second-tier Nationwide Series.
It just might pay off.
Teams are noticing Stremmeís recent string of strong finishes, and he already is working on potential deals to return to Sprint Cup.
iA lot of people are talking, and weíll see what happens on the Cup side of things,î Stremme said. iI feel very confident that Iíll be back in the Cup series next year.î
Stremme was considered one of NASCARís top up-and-coming talents when he made the jump to Cup full-time in 2006. But he found himself out of a job late last season when team owner Chip Ganassi hired Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti to replace him in the No. 40 car in 2008.
The move was tough for Stremme to take.
He finished a disappointing 24th in the points last season but notes that teammates Juan Pablo Montoya and Reed Sorenson didnít fare much better ó making Stremme suspect that he took the fall for organization-wide performance problems that have continued this season.
iI just think thereís more than just one problem,î Stremme said. iThereís a lot of problems there. And I have a lot of friends there still because I was there for a long time. But itís just something (where) we went different directions, and I think itís going to help me.î
Adding to Stremmeís frustration was his belief that Ganassi had a deal in place with Franchitti last August but waited until September to tell him.
iIt took me away from getting a couple other good rides, and I wasnít happy about that,î Stremme said.
Stremme said he is grateful to Ganassi for bringing him to NASCAR, and the two remain friends. But in April, when his old team asked him to fill in at Talladega after Franchitti was injured, Stremme thought it was odd that team co-owner Felix Sabates called to thank him afterward but he didnít hear anything from Ganassi.
Especially since Stremme led the race twice before getting caught up in a wreck.
iThatís the best that carís run all year, and I figured Iíd at least get a phone call,î he said.
Ganassi understands Stremmeís frustration.
iDavid knows how I feel about him personally,î Ganassi said. iUnfortunately, the business decisions of sports can be rather tough. David found himself on the receiving end of one of those business decisions. Itís sometimes difficult to hear when an organization chooses someone else over you ó I get that. I wish David nothing but the best.î
Stremme said his experiences driving for Wallace and working as a test driver for Roger Penskeís Cup team ó a deal that could turn into a full-time ride next season ó have given him a taste of what he wants.
iWith Roger Penske, Iím testing with him, I talk to him, we sit down, we discuss things,î Stremme said. iSame with Rusty, you can talk to him. And thatís a little different on Chipís program, and I think heís just got a lot going on.î
After learning he was out of a ride, Stremme said he spoke to three Cup teams but didnít consider any of them competitive enough. So he signed with Wallace, who agreed to field a second car along with the one driven by his son, Steve.
Stremme said his goal was to ito get into the best situation that I can to kind of get my stock back up.î
After some growing pains with his new team, Stremme has finished sixth or better in five of the seriesí last eight races, including second-place finishes at Talladega and Nashville.
iAs good as heís done in this Nationwide car, it just woke a lot of people up,î Wallace said. iIt really has. Iím glad I was able to help him with that. But he has helped us twicefold by getting some legitimacy back in our team.î
Wallace won the Cup championship in 1989 and currently works as an analyst for ESPNís NASCAR coverage. Still, his team doesnít have the research and development budget to compete with major Cup teams that also run in the Nationwide series.
iBut I still feel like we can beat them,î Stremme said.
But before they can start thinking about checkered flags and championships, Wallace and Stremme must work through a snag: They donít have enough sponsorship to run a second car in every race for the rest of the season.
iWeíre working like hell trying to fill more races,î Wallace said.
Stremme wants to do anything he can to help Wallace find sponsorship and his son become more consistent on the track and in that way repay Wallace for his career advice.
iItís not just about race cars,î Stremme said. iIím able to talk to him about a lot of things Iím going through in my career, and heís been able to help quite a bit on that, too.î
And despite last yearís setbacks, Stremme believes he can win in Cup.
iI think I can still showcase a lot more of what Iím able to do,î Stremme said. iIím able to do that a lot here with Rustyís team. Each week, like I said, we go into it and people know weíre a contender, and I feel good about it.î
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