By Lee Montgomery
Special to the Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service
Drew Herring decided to take some time off from pursuing his engineering degree from N.C. State University a couple of years ago to go racing. Herring knew he would always have a chance to go back to school, but he also knew "these racing deals don't always come around," he said.
Especially not ones with powerhouse organizations like Joe Gibbs Racing.
Yet, that's what Herring has this season. After only four NASCAR Nationwide Series starts, Herring got a chance to drive for JGR, the team that has won three consecutive Nationwide owners championships, and he's in the No. 20 Toyota for this weekend's Kroger 200 at Lucas Oil Raceway.
"It's amazing," Herring said. "There's no other way to describe it. It's absolutely a complete privilege to have the honor to drive of those these cars."
How did Herring get the chance? He raced with JGR Sprint Cup driver Denny Hamlin in Late Models around the Southeast a few years ago, and after Hamlin reached Sprint Cup, he told the people at JGR about Herring.
Herring, 24, continued to cultivate that relationship, and when Gibbs had some open spots for up-and-coming drivers in the Nationwide Series this year, the team gave Herring a call.
"Denny was pushing my name pretty hard up there," Herring said. "Next thing I know, we were making a deal to go to Iowa and run. Ever since, I've been on Cloud 9."
JGR likely was impressed by Herring's performance in part-time duties last year with Baker Curb Racing. He qualified 15th and ran in the top 10 before finishing 15th in his Nationwide debut at Iowa last year, and also qualified 13th and finished 17th at Gateway.
This season, Herring debuted with JGR at Iowa, leading 39 laps after starting from the pole when qualifying was rained out. He finished 12th, and then was seventh at Nashville Superspeedway last weekend, the best finish of his young career, and has the chance to race in back-to-back events by competing at Indy this weekend. That's huge for a young driver.
"I'm jumping in there trying to do the best I can, but I know I'm not at the top of my game like I could be if I had the chance to ... get the seat time these other guys are getting," Herring said. "Going back to back weekends, you can jump in the car and you've got some confidence in you."
"I'm real excited to finally have a couple races back to back. I think it'll really pay off for us."
Herring said he's excited to run the Lucas Oil Raceway short track, as he grew up racing on similar tracks.
"I'm still going there with the same mindset I have every race," Herring said. "The first few laps, I'm going to take it easy and get used to the race track. We'll progress as the weekend goes, and hopefully the best laps we run all weekend will be the last few of the race."
What: Kroger 200
Where: Lucas Oil Raceway; Clermont, Ind.
When: Saturday, 7:45 p.m.
TV: ESPN2, 7:30 p.m. Eastern
Radio: MRN/Sirius XM Ch. 90
Track layout: .686-mile oval
Race distance: 200 laps/137.2 miles
Qualifying: Saturday, 4:30 p.m. Eastern
Points leaders: 1. Reed Sorenson, 702; 2. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 697; 3. Elliott Sadler, 688; 4. Justin Allgaier, 672; 5. Aric Almirola, 631; 6. Jason Leffler, 608; 7. Kenny Wallace, 605; 8. Steve Wallace, 558; 9. Michael Annett, 550; 10. Brian Scott, 537.