DONNA McWILLIAM / AP Enlarge
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - The frustration finally got the best of Jimmy Spencer. The irascible veteran had his fill of struggling in the back of the pack and watching other Nextel Cup teams dominate.
If he could not race with them on a reasonably level playing field, in comparable equipment, then Spencer would take his skills elsewhere. After 16 seasons in Cup racing, the 48-year-old Spencer has landed in the Craftsman Truck Series for 2005.
"Nobody questions the fact that Nextel Cup is the top series around, but the way I see it is, if you do not have a solid race team that can put you in position to be competitive, then you don't belong out there," Spencer said. "You need that support behind you to make it work, and if it's not there, it just plain won't work."
Spencer, who raced for four different owners over the last four seasons, has just two wins in 465 Cup races in his career, and those both came back in 1994 when he ran for Junior Johnson. Last year he failed to finish in the top 10 in all 25 races he entered, and seven times did not even finish the race.
"I would much rather run in the truck series where I feel I can contend, than knock around in the back of the field at the Cup races," Spencer said. "Without the proper backing, I don't think you have a real chance of winning on the Cup level, so why do it."
Spencer is driving a Dodge truck for Jim Smith's Ultra Motorsports this season, and makes his first start with the team in tomorrow night's Florida Dodge Dealers 250 at Daytona International Speedway.
Spencer, notorious for being outspoken, and for popping Kurt Busch in the nose in the garage area at Michigan International Speedway a couple of years ago when he disapproved of a move Busch made in a race, said Smith will give him a competitive ride.
"I was in a situation last year where the car I drove was terrible," Spencer said. "The bottom line is, if you have a chance to step into a truck owned by Jimmy Smith, you're dumb not to do it. I think I can contend for wins in the trucks and for the championship. I love working with Dodge. I'm glad to be back on board again. You can't ask for a better situation, the Ram Tough Dodge and me fitting in that No. 1. That's awesome, man."
Spencer, who has a win at Daytona International Speedway on his resume, in the second Cup race here in 1994, has more than $19 million in career earnings in Cup racing. He has not given up the chase entirely.
"It's just phenomenal the way this sport has progressed over the last 15 years," Spencer said. "When I look at the series now, I want to drive Nextel Cup every day. Will I get that opportunity again? No, but I will drive a limited deal in Nextel Cup in a Dodge, and try to build for the future."
Spencer contends he is more than content for now just finding his place in the truck series, where a number of other Nextel Cup veterans have settled into prominent roles.
"NASCAR is looking at the truck series as being the tournament for the above 40-crowd. Everything in the past has worked for 'em, so maybe this will work for 'em, too," he said. "I think there's still a lot of pressure anywhere you go.
"But so many scenarios are built into a team, and until you grasp that nucleus and start from the guy that's cleaning the shop to the girl that's answering the phone to the girl that's scoring the truck, if they don't have the proper attitude, that team won't be a success.
"That's the way I look at it. You can always have fun when you're running good. That's the bottom line. When I ain't running good, don't be around me. I hate it. Just get away."29.20358 -81.03941