DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Every time he zips up the fire suit and climbs into the truck, Terry Cook pushes the record for consecutive starts in NASCAR races further and further beyond the horizon.
Tonight, the Sylvania native will make it just a little bit harder for anyone else to touch that mark when Cook runs his string of successive truck races to 266.
That makes Cook the unofficial Energizer Bunny of the Craftsman Truck Series - he just keeps going and going and going.
Cook positioned himself well for that event, qualifying second-fastest in last night's session. Cook had an average speed of 175.853 mph and turned a lap around the speedway in 51.179 seconds. Cook had the pole for part of the evening before Erik Darnell grabbed it with a 50.983 second lap and a speed of 176.529 mph.
"We're happy with the way the truck is performing, and we don't have to be in front. As long as we can see the front we'll be OK," Cook said.
"I guess that means I know something about this, and I guess I've had a little bit of good luck too and stayed out of any serious trouble out there," Cook said as his Wyler Racing team went through the final paces yesterday in advance of tonight's first race of the 2008 season, the Chevy Silverado 250.
While compiling that long sequence of races, Cook has competed here at Daytona International Speedway eight times and finished in the top 10 in five of those events. A crash took him out of last year's race 61 laps in to the 100-lap race.
"That just makes you even more anxious, even more jazzed about coming down here to race and get the season started," said Cook, who begins his 11th full season in truck racing.
"You never want to not finish the race, and when it happens, you come away with a feeling of unfinished business."
Cook, who started his racing career in 1987 running in the Late Model Sportsman Division at Toledo Speedway and Flat Rock Speedway, said a February trip to this historic track has been a tradition in his family for more than 30 years.
"I love the racing at Daytona," Cook said. "For many years during the 1970s and 1980s, my family would travel from the blistering cold winters in Toledo and go down to Daytona to spend time at the track and vacation in the warm weather. It was nice to have the whole family down here together to watch the races. It's a great way to start the season off each year."
Cook claimed championships at Toledo, Flat Rock, and Sandusky speedways before taking his first run in the Craftsman Truck Series in 1996. He debuted at The Milwaukee Mile in July that year and has been in the grid to start each Truck Series event since then.
The 2008 season finds Cook with his third different team in the past three years - Wyler Racing, owned by Cincinnati-based auto dealer Jeff Wyler.
"Terry has been a staple in the Craftsman Truck Series over the years, and he brings a wealth of experience to our team. He will be a true asset to our organization," Wyler said
Cook said changing teams, manufacturers, and crews is a fact of life in NASCAR, where most drivers do not enjoy a broad continuity over the long haul.
"I think I'm a guy who is used to changes, so that makes me better equipped to deal with it. Change becomes less of an issue for me," Cook said. "And with this move to Wyler, change is a wonderful thing because it has let me move to an awesome team that has proven to be one of the best in the Craftsman Truck Series year after year."
The Wyler team has finished in the top 10 in points each year that it has been a part of the Craftsman Series full time, and last year Wyler's No. 60 truck won the Daytona race with Jack Sprague at the wheel. When Sprague jumped to Kevin Harvick's race team, an opening occurred, and Cook stepped in.
"I didn't know a lot of people over there coming through the door, but I know the team and its reputation for excellence, and the people at Wyler knew me and what kind of racer I was," Cook said. "There was a trust and a confidence from day one, and we've been full speed ahead the whole time."
Cook took his Toyota Tundra to the second-fastest time in testing at Atlanta last month and fared well in other sessions leading up to the start of the 2008 season. He said the team enters the Daytona race brimming with positive energy.
"We had a good feeling from the get-go, and then when we tested well, that just kind of reinforced all that confidence around the garage," Cook said. "I think we're optimistic about Daytona, and the rest of the season that follows, for all the right reasons. I think we have all of the necessary pieces in place."
The Chevy Silverado 250 is the first of 25 races on the Craftsman Truck Series schedule - the series comes to Mansfield Motorsports Park in May for the Ohio 250 and then stops at Michigan International Speedway in June for the Cool City Customs 200.
"We put a lot of work and a ton of effort into this Daytona race because it's the first one after the offseason," Cook said, "but you have to maintain some kind of focus on the long haul too. One race doesn't make or break your season - that's something I've learned a long time ago - so you keep plugging at it every day."
For Cook, that translates into cranking the engine tonight and jumping in the starting grid for the 266th straight time.
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