Three races into 2012, rookie Paulie Harraka, driver of the No. 5 Ford for Wauters Motorsports continues to experience the ups and downs of any freshman entering NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series. Experience them with him in the latest edition of our Driver Diary, after a second-place qualifying run turned into a 26th-place learning experience at Rockingham.
In this edition, he talks everything from The Rock’s return weekend to debris cautions, Hall of Fame nominations, even what’s playing in his CD player these days.
TOM BOWLES, FRONTSTRETCH: Let’s start with Rockingham. The qualifying effort was certainly strong, putting you on the outside of the front row. Where were you making up the most time and what type of boost did that give your team after the first two races?
PAULIE HARRAKA: Being on the bottom in qualifying really helped us. We focused on being able to run right around the bottom of the racetrack, and watching our qualifying lap, you saw that. We were right around the bottom. A lot of the guys ended up drifting up and that benefited them in the race, but it was a drawback in qualifying.
By my standards, as far as the lap felt, it felt OK. It didn’t feel great. But it was just a solid lap and it ended up putting us up front. That was a good morale booster – we didn’t have anything necessarily in the record books yet this year to say, “Hey, we’re learning, we’re doing a good job and we’re making progress.” And to put that notch in there, I think it definitely got everyone excited, a little more comfortable and was, all-in-all a good morale booster for the race team.
Unfortunately, coming back the next day, we were just way too loose. We made significant changes, really big ones all throughout the race just to try and tighten it up and got most of the way there near the end. But we just started the race way too loose, right from the start.
As soon as we got going, we ran in the top five for a little while but once we got five laps on the tires is when we started to get bad loose. Sometimes, a casual fan can struggle to understand the simple dichotomy between having winning speed in qualifying and being unable to keep it up consistently during the race.
BOWLES: What was the source of your struggles, and when did you feel a quality finish start to slip through your fingers?
HARRAKA: Well, one thing you have to look at in that scenario – especially at a track like Rockingham, where tire wear is such a big deal is it’s just like any other endurance race. You can come out of the gate sprinting, but the rest of the field will catch up to you. And for us, just the way we ended up setup-wise, the track was just so abusive on the right-rear tire and that caught up to us. It was fine for a single lap, but not for a long run.
BOWLES: The Truck Series race at Rockingham was one of the most-hyped events in that division for many years. Your thoughts on how the track performed in its return to NASCAR … would you like to see it on the schedule next year?
HARRAKA: The track did fantastic. Listen, all the fans I talked to in the area that came to the race, they were super excited. People that watched it on TV were super excited. I know Cup teams that rearranged their plane flights back from Texas so they could come back to Rockingham and watch.
So I think, as a whole the return of the sport there was huge. It’s an honorary return to some of the grassroots of our sport. You saw how full the stands were … I would love to see the track back on the schedule for next year.
BOWLES: After a rocky Daytona, races in all three top series have been marked by an unusual number of long green-flag runs this season. And when we do see the cautions come out … in many cases, they’ve been for debris. What’s your take on why the wrecks have gone down significantly in 2012?
HARRAKA: A few things. Some of it’s just luck, the way things work out. As soon as you get a lot of green-flag racing, a caution happens and you have two or three in a row. On the flip side, guys are racing pretty smart. Especially at this point, we’re still early in the season and drivers are still trying to get their feet wet with setups and teams. I know the racing is still great; at Rockingham, there was still tons and tons of side-by-side racing and a lot of hardcore battles for position.
BOWLES: When you guys see long green-flag runs coming, how does it change your strategy?
HARRAKA: You can’t really sense it, but yeah, it does change your strategy because … look at Rockingham. Almost everyone who pitted for tires pitted under yellow, and I think guys figured they would put on all their sets of tires and make no more than a 40-lap run.
And what actually happened is we went much longer than that because of the way the cautions fell. So especially when we’re pitting for tires, and that’s dependent on when the cautions come out, it really affects the racing strategy.
BOWLES: Now, both fans and drivers have different opinions on the value of debris cautions. What’s your take and do you feel like they’re necessary in the interests of safety?
HARRAKA: I mean, from our perspective you’ve to respect NASCAR’s call. There’s obviously a reason they’re throwing it; for them, there’s a good reason and you’ve got to respect it. I can’t say I’ve actually gone out and looked for the debris every time; NASCAR throws the caution, NASCAR throws it. It is what it is.
BOWLES: A lot of big names in NASCAR have gone through the first seven races winless: Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Which name surprises you the most in terms of being shut out of victory lane?
HARRAKA: The guys who are winless have at least had good runs. Look at Jimmie; yeah, he’s still winless, but he finished second at Texas. So I think the biggest surprise for the season as a whole is Jeff Gordon just because where instead of being winless and right there on the cusp, the [No.] 24 gang just hasn’t quite hit their stride yet. And they will; they do it every single season. It just hasn’t happened yet.
BOWLES: The NASCAR Hall of Fame just released its list of 25 nominees for the coming year. Are you happy with the way the process played out, and what changes, if any would you like to see to the system? Would you like to see more than five admitted per year?
HARRAKA: I think that, on the whole it works. The 25-nominee thing definitely works. How that’ll go, obviously with it being such a young Hall of Fame, there was such a rush to get some of the big names that needed to be in, in. But you don’t want to bring 30 people in the first year either. I think now that they’ve crossed that threshold, let’s still slowly keep adding the people that deserve it. I think having five admitted every year is OK.
“If you could drive any car on the racetrack, aside from a NASCAR racecar – like a street car – what would it be and why?” – Eddie Troutman, Salem, Va.
HARRAKA: I would love to drive a Ford GT around the racetrack. I’ve got a big painting of the GT 40 that won Le Mans with Foyt and Gurney hanging up in my room. It’s a car that I’ve always loved. I have not gotten an opportunity to drive one, so I would love to drive one on the racetrack.
What makes it stand out?
To me, it’s the whole story behind the decision to build that racecar and the effort that was put into putting Americans on the map at Le Mans. And then, the success that the car had is just an exceptional story.
Do you have a question you want to ask Paulie? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and watch your question show up next month!
WHAT’S HOT/WHAT’S NOT IN PAULIE’S WORLD
HOT (and NOT): I am not the most current guy when it comes to music stuff. I do listen to the radio every once in awhile, but to tell you names of bands and names of songs, anything current is totally over my head.
OK. Well what’s in your CD player right now?
Right now, it’s a Matchbox 20 CD from the ‘90s.
Are you more of a ‘90s guy?
I’m not sure I consider myself that. But it happens to be a good CD. In my car right now, there’s some Simon & Garfunkel, Matchbox 20, Beatles, U2 … what else? Some Paul McCartney … I think that covers it.
What are the keys to a successful weekend at Kansas and why?
We just have to put a whole weekend together. We’ve at some point shined at every part of the process this season. We’ve shined in qualifying, had fast trucks at one point during the race but now, we’re at a point where we need to put a whole weekend together and that’s what we need to do at Kansas. I need to figure out what I want out of the race truck early, what do we have to do to get to that point, excel in qualifying and get through the race.
About the author
The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.
You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.
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