2009-12-31 / Sports

James Finch, NASCAR’s Last Independent

By Gerald Hodges THE RACING REPORTER
deep pockets of owners Rick Hendrick, Jack Roush, Joe Gibbs or Richard Childress, but after his driver Brad Keselowski’s lastlap pass of Carl Edwards at Talladega last year, Finch got his first big win.

James Finch and driver Brad Keselowski celebrate their first Cup win at Talladega James Finch and driver Brad Keselowski celebrate their first Cup win at Talladega “The Talladega 500 where Brad (Keselowski) won was my biggest race,” said Finch. “It’s so hard in Cup racing to win, because of the factory teams and all the other big teams you go up against. You’ve usually got the same winners, because they are the ones that have the most money.”

“I’ve run 20-something years and most of the time I’ve had to sponsor the teams myself. It’s all about performance. When you get to the Cup level, you try to get

good sponsor. Then when you get one, you try to keep it, because they are really hard to come by.”

Brad Keselowski, the driver of the No. 1 Miccosukkee Chevrolet was shocked after winning the Talladega spring race.

“Man, that was an awesome race,” said Keselowski. “You just never know going into Talladega what’s going to happen. It really is a crapshoot. I had such a strong car, especially when I was able to get behind someone and push them. I think Carl (Edwards) and I were going over 200 miles per hour there at the end when the two of us hooked up together.”

“I had such a great time racing with those guys, and I hope I was able to gain some respect from them in the process. The fact that I won really didn’t sink in for a long time. What a great day for Phoenix Racing and James Finch.”

“I went into my coach and turned on the TV so I could watch the replay of the race. Up until that point I still hadn’t seen exactly how it all played out. It was really interesting hearing the reaction of the TV announcers when they realized I won the race.”

“I have no factory help or engineering support,” said Finch.

We are a little more competitive on the superspeedways because they have the restricted motors. It takes a lot more work, but we are able to run better on them than at tracks like Charlotte.”

“We are going to run all the 2010 Nationwide Series races with James Buescher as the driver. He drove in the Truck series last year and will be running for rookie of the year. We’ll do about 18- 20 Cup races with Aric Almirola.

“We’ve already got sponsors lined up for those races, and if I come up with more, then we’ll run some additional Cup races. If we have a lot of wrecks and get the equipment tore up, the money will have to come out of my company’s pocket. You’ve got to watch what you do and not tear up a bunch of cars.”

“I like for my drivers to race hard, but I tell them to drive smart and try to take care of the equipment.”

Born in Panama City, Fla., Finch’s love for racing never swayed him from leaving his Florida home. He uses money from his Panama City construction company to race with, but maintains a policy of not spending more than his race teams make.

His staying power has earned him the respect of many NASCAR stars, including Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“James deserves to win, because of what he’s been able to put into the sport,” said Dale Jr., who owns the car driven by Keselowski full time in the Nationwide Series. “So I’m really proud. I’ve gotten to know him much better over the last couple of years. He did an awesome job putting Brad in the car this year and giving him an opportunity.”

Before his breakthrough in Alabama – his team’s 105th Cup start – Finch probably was best known for an incident in February 2004 during the final Cup race at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, N.C.

The race was several teams short of a 43-car field, so Finch entered Joe Ruttman. His car was black-flagged by NASCAR for starting the race without a pit crew, and Ruttman parked his Dodge after completing one lap. He earned $54,196 for last – more than tripling the $16,150 that Johnny Benson Jr. had won for Finch by finishing ninth in the Busch Series race a day earlier.

“They didn’t have enough cars so we decided to get a Cup car and try and get the purse money,” Finch continued. “It’s not like we were robbing NASCAR. We were just trying to help out.”

Finch entered his first Nationwide race in 1989 and made his Cup debut a year later but generally has raced more on NASCAR’s lesser circuit. He has raced the Nationwide schedule full time since 2005 and has 476 starts and 11 victories in the series.

Several well-known veterans (including Sterling Marlin, Jimmy Spencer, Martin Truex Jr. and Geoffrey Bodine) have driven Finch’s cars. He dedicated Keselowski’s win to the family of Neil Bonnet, who was killed in a Finch-owned car in practice at Daytona in ’94.

Finch’s Phoenix Racing shop in Spartanburg, S.C., employs about 25 people (roughly 5 percent of the staffs at Hendrick Motorsports or Roush Fenway Racing) and fields cars in both NASCAR and ARCA, the minorleague circuit where he tries, “to help someone out, every once in a while.”

“I’ve had a lot of people help me and so we try and pass it down to some of these kids in the ARCA series,” Finch continued. “It’s really tough now. The short-track races 30 years ago were paying $600 to win, and they are paying $600 to win now.

“I guess I’m one of the only independents to race on a regular basis. Some of them come in for a few races and leave be- cause it’s so expensive, and there’s no glory. My dream was always to win a Cup race. I finally did.”

Racing trivia question: Which Cup team will Brad Keselowski drive for in 2010?

Last week’s question: Where is the first Cup race of the regular season held? Answer. Daytona Beach, Fla.

Contact the Racing Reporter at: hodgesnews@earthlink.net.

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