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Cole Whitt has his career on the fast track

Cole Whitt, driver of the No. 99 Pastrana Waltrip Racing Toyota, stands in the garage during practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Top Gear 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Cole Whitt, driver of the No. 99 Pastrana Waltrip Racing Toyota, stands in the garage during practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Top Gear 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

By Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service

CONCORD, N.C. - New track? No problem.

New car? No problem.

Savvy beyond his 19 years, with a knack for finding speed honed in Sprint Car competition on dirt, Cole Whitt is the youngest driver ever to lead the points standings in NASCAR's Camping World Truck Series-and the first rookie to do so.

A wisp of a guy with a shock of bright red hair-a striking complement to the Red Bull logos on his cap and driver's uniform-Whitt is becoming a titan on the racetrack.

That's why he's being mentioned already as a possible replacement for Kasey Kahne in a Red Bull Sprint Cup Series car next year, after Kahne moves to Hendrick Motorsports.

There's one stat that positively jumps out at you. In seven truck races this season-all on unfamiliar tracks-Whitt is the only driver in the series to have finished on the lead lap in every event. His last two starts have produced a runner-up result at Dover (behind Kyle Busch) and a third May 20 at Charlotte (behind Busch and Clint Bowyer).

In Whitt's case, it helps to have an owner, Stacy Compton, who started 158 truck races himself. It also helps to have talent and finely-tuned racing know-how, and Whitt lacks for neither.

"I guess the good thing is that the team I'm with has been around for a little while," Whitt said Thursday, waiting to practice the No. 99 Pastrana Waltrip Racing Toyota he will drive in Saturday's Nationwide Series race at Charlotte. "All the guys that I go to the track with are guys that have been to all these tracks before. I have Stacy Compton to rely on if I have any questions about the tracks I go to.

"But I think a lot of it's from dirt racing. Coming from dirt racing, you never go out on the same track twice. You might go to the same dirt track over and over again, but the track's never the same. It's always a different line. The moisture on the track is different. Part of that, I think, teaches you to find what you need for speed. I think it makes you adaptable a little bit quicker."

The Nationwide race is the third of Whitt's career and his first in the new racecar introduced full time to the series this year. In two Nationwide starts with Red Bull Racing last year, Whitt finished a creditable 15th at Phoenix and 17th at Homestead.

A Cup start is almost certainly in the cards for later this year. Whitt says that's just talk right now, but he's glad the conversation is happening.

"There's talk, but it's only just talk," he said. "Racing can be so up and down with what you've got going on. This ride (with Pastrana Waltrip) came together last weekend when I was here with my truck. I got called the day we unloaded for our trucks, and they said, 'Hey, you've got the 99.' And I was like, 'Well, all right, let's do it.'

"That's how quick it could change. They could call me up right before one of the (Cup) races and say, 'Get over here and get your seat mounted, and let's go.' It's up to them. They've been talking about it (at Red Bull)-which is good. At least they're talking about it, but you really never know."

If he could pick a track to make his first Cup start, Dover would be at the top of the list.

"I'd pick a place like Dover," Whitt said. "I've run there a few times. I run really well there. Somewhere with some banking and some speed-a faster track."

Born into a racing family, Whitt grew up in Alpine, Calif. His grandfather and father raced stock cars on a local level. His cousin, Brandon Whitt, spent two full seasons in the truck series in 2004-2005.

"As far as I'm concerned, I'm living the dream," Cole Whitt said. "I've always wanted to race cars. I've wanted to race Sprint Cup-just NASCAR in general-ever since I was a little kid. It's crazy to think about how far I've come, looking back on my career, what it's progressed to, where I'm at now.

"It's kind of overwhelming, but it's pretty cool. I've been happier this year than I have for a long time."