“I respect him (Shane Wilson) a lot, he’s very smart. My favorite (crew chief) was probably Cully Baraclough and I think it’s simply because he was there when I was at (Robert) Yates and won that race. He’s a big reason why we turned that program around, making changes over at that team that we wouldn’t have done, or done that soon in the season had he not been there helping us out,” Stephen Leicht said on behalf of his former crew chiefs.
Even with his success in a limited schedule, Leicht wasn’t resigned by Richard Childress Racing, which is just a small part of how he’s landed into the mess which he calls life as of 2013.
For the past few years, Leicht has struggled to find work in racing. He’s had a few driving opportunities, but none that can give him a secure future. After not racing at all in 2010, Leicht received a last minute call to drive for Tommy Baldwin Racing at Richmond in September of 2011. Besides the fact that the team was severely underfunded and was just starting to run inside of the top 30 on a weekly basis, Leicht drove the wheels off the No. 36 Golden Corral Chevrolet. He and teammate Dave Blaney had overwhelming runs, as each finished inside of the top 25. At one point, Leicht even ran inside of the top 15 and surprised some folks inside the NASCAR garage. Due to the great result and the reception by fans and sponsors, TBR gave Leicht another shot the next week, but he missed the race. That’s when things went downhill faster than an avalanche.
“The sport has gotten to the point where it’s all about having sponsorship now and it’s very difficult to find that sponsorship, especially at the level that we race at. It takes a lot of money to do what we do, and, unfortunately, we just haven’t had the right opportunity with right team and sponsor yet.”
Leicht hit the lowest of lows last year. He had to drive a start-and-park effort for a brand new team, Circle Sport Racing. It’s always embarrassing for a driver to park a car at the start of a race due to a lack of funding. Yet, even with an impressive resume, Leicht couldn’t impress sponsors. The team enabled him to run just five full races, and in those races, he couldn’t even finish close to the lead lap because of the team’s lack of experience. The one race he ran well in was at Watkins Glen, finishing 26th. However, Leicht didn’t really impress many people, including himself. The lone bright spot was winning Rookie of the Year.
Just to make a little extra cash, Leicht took some more start-and-park jobs on NASCAR’s lower levels. He drove a few races for Hillman Racing in the Camping World Truck Series and The Motorsports Group in the Nationwide Series. Overall, things couldn’t have been worse for a man who was once deemed as one of the next top drivers in the sport.
“You can accomplish a lot with a little. We did not have any sponsorship last year, and every time we would go for broke every week. Before this year, the rule in qualifying for making races was different from last year, which was being on time and having owner points. We were luckily able to make enough of the races to win rookie of the year, which was our main goal. We had our work cut out, but we were able to do it.”
“I didn’t like it very much. I want to race and do well. My goal is to get better each and every week. I think my age was catching up to me a little bit. Being only 25 last year, I was having a hard time of understanding the concept of start and park. We were literally there to make the race and that was it. It was something that I had to learn over the course of the 20 races we made. Even though I didn’t like it, I just had to deal with it.”
Check out part three of this exclusive three-part series.