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Bires ready for first Nationwide start

Kelly Bires steps in for his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut with JR Motorsports at Auto Club Speedway
A young driver is about to drive a JR Motorsports Chevrolet for the first time this year in the Nationwide Series.

No, it's not Danica Patrick. Not everything these days in NASCAR is about the IndyCar star.

The young driver is Kelly Bires, 25, who was the odd-man out in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway last weekend. Team co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. drove the #88 entry at Daytona, while Patrick chose to make her NASCAR debut and was in the #7.

That left Bires on the sidelines, drawing sympathy from fans and competitors alike. Bires was the heir apparent to Brad Keselowski on the team but couldn't make the start at Daytona.

“It kind of surprised me how many people really knew who I was,” Bires said. “That brought attention that you do have some pretty dang loyal fans out there. I think everyone just wanted to see me — they know the opportunity I've got ahead of me, and they wanted to see me racing.

“Everyone's always excited about the first race of the year. Daytona's always a big one. There's a couple months off of racing, and everyone's watching it. It just creates a big deal. I think if I would've run that race and maybe missed California, it might not have been as big a deal. But just all the hype leading up to Daytona, it kind of intensified it a little bit.”

While Bires got his share of attention, Patrick was under intense media scrutiny. And that likely will continue this weekend in Saturday's Stater Bros. 300 at Auto Club Speedway. Bires doesn't really mind seeing his more popular teammate getting the attention, which could help him focus more on his task at hand.

“You know it's going to come to her, just because it's obviously something new to the sport,” Bires said. “It's the new hot ticket. The media either wants to get a piece from her — it's the new hot thing. It's like the new soda out there. It's kind of what it reminded me of. Obviously, it'll fade away as we continue to race through the schedule.”

Bires also hopes his deficit in the championship race will fade away as the season continues. He's in a deep hole in the title hunt after missing Daytona, and he knows it. Crew chief Tony Eury Sr. said before the season he expected Bires to pick up right where Keselowski left off in the #88, but now Bires will be in catch-up mode. Keselowski finished third in each of the past two years, winning six races.

“Our focus is more going out there every week and running in the top ten, top five and winning races,” Bires said. “The points obviously take care of themselves. Missing one race, it's going to add a little bit of difficulty to keep up with people like Carl (Edwards).”

Keselowski regularly raced Edwards, the 2007 Nationwide champion who finished second the past two years. Bires finished 13th in 2008, his only full season in the series. He started 14 races last year, finishing in the top 10 three times. Keselowski made every start in his two full-time seasons.

“I don't think it's out of the question that we can miss one race and still do it,” Bires said. “But you just can't have any DNFs, can't have anything that's going to hurt your points. You've got to have a solid points day every week. You can't have an off-week when you missed one.”

by Lee Montgomery/Sporting News



Related Pictures

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Kelly Bires gets his first start in the No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevrolet in Saturday’s Nationwide Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
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Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet, leads a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 24, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS, finished in third place, Sunday, May 24, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
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Darrell Wallace Jr., driver of the #6 Cheez-It Ford, pits during the NASCAR XFINITY Series Hisense 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 23, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo Credit: Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser PrecisionChevrolet SS, qualifies for tenth position, Thursday, May 21, 2015, for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina. Truex, Jr. is second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. All 43 drivers will be participating in
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Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS, races to victory Sunday, May 3, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway in Lincoln, Alabama. With him are Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS who finished second, and Paul Menard, driver of the #27 Quaker State/Menards Chevrolet SS who finished in third place. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)

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