Tayler Malsam picked a brightly-lit stage for his NASCAR coming-out party.
The Mill Creek, Wash., resident will be racing against defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and Cup points leader Kyle Busch when he makes his inaugural start in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series on Wednesday in Bristol, Tenn.
“It’s going to be crazy, we’re getting pretty excited,” Malsam said last week of making his NASCAR debut. “We’re going to run about five (truck series) races this year.”
The series has had nine different winners this season and all nine will be in the O’Reilly 200 field. Busch, who has two truck series wins this year, will be looking to join Carl Edwards and Mark Martin as winners in all three NASCAR national series at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Series points leader Johnny Benson will be going for an unprecedented fourth straight victory after wins at Kentucky Speedway, O’Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis and Nashville. Previously, four drivers have tried but failed to win a fourth consecutive race in the series.
Two-time defending Cup champion Johnson will make his truck series debut driving for Randy Moss Motorsports in the No. 81 Chevrolet.
Malsam will be driving the No. 41 Dodge Ram for CHS Motorsports, a division of Cunningham Motorsports. Malsam has been driving stock cars in the ARCA RE/MAX Series this season for Cunningham.
The race will be televised live on the SPEED channel beginning at 4:30 p.m.
Bristol Motor Speedway — the “World’s Fastest Half Mile” according to the track’s Web site — is a 0.533-mile high-banked concrete oval surrounded by grandstands seating 160,000.
It is short-track racing on a large scale: regardless of series, few cars make it through an entire race unscathed.
“We tested the ARCA car there three weeks ago and it’s a fun track,” Malsam said. “It’s a lot easier by yourself than it would be with 40 cars on the track, that’s for sure.”
“I’ll probably get thrown around like a ragdoll, but it’ll be fun,” he added.
All three NASCAR national series will race under the lights at Bristol this week ¬— trucks on Wednesday, Nationwide on Friday and Cup on Saturday — which marks the 30th anniversary of the first Bristol night race in 1978. It will also this be the 53rd consecutive Bristol sellout.
To help recognize the Pacific Northwest and let the nation know where he is from, Malsam’s truck for his NASCAR debut will carry the graphics of the Hydroplane &Raceboat Museum in Kent, Wash.
The Hydroplane &Raceboat Museum is the nation’s only public museum dedicated solely to powerboat racing and it is a place special to seven-time national champion hydroplane racer Chip Hanauer, who has served as an advisor to Malsam.
In addition to Bristol, Malsam said he expects to run four more truck races this year in preparation for racing the full season in 2009. Although the schedule is still being worked on, Malsam said Martinsville, Va., Texas, Phoenix and Lowe’s Motorspeedway in Charlotte, N.C., were possible truck races he could run this season.
That is, if he can fit those races into an already packed schedule. The 19-year-old has been splitting his racing time this year between the ARCA series and racing sprint cars for Rudeen Racing of Monroe, Wash. at local and national tracks.
“I’m still trying to figure it out,” Malsam said of his hectic schedule. “I tell people, ‘Tell me where to go to drive the racecars.’”
For now that means finishing out the ARCA season with Cunningham, and looking forward to the 2009 truck season driving for CHS. He plans on moving to Charlotte next summer to focus on racing.
But as fast as he has risen through the racing ranks so far, Malsam knows there are still a couple more rungs he has to climb to get to the top of the ladder.
So, after his truck debut on Wednesday, Malsam will test drive a Sprint Cup car for Penske Racing.
In June, Cunningham Motorsports was named the official driver development team for Penske. That deal may open the door for Malsam to join an organization with more than 300 victories in various auto racing series, including an unprecedented 14 Indianapolis 500 wins and the 2008 Daytona 500.
“We met with Penske but there’s no deal,” Malsam said. “I’d love to sign with Penske and just be racing for them next year. Penske is one of the best teams out there.”
Regardless of the outcome Wednesday night in Bristol, Malsam’s racing future appears to be as bright as the stage he’ll be stepping on for his NASCAR debut.