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Kobyluck, Park looking for place in the pack

Norwich Bulletin

Steve Park has lived the dream, Matt Kobyluck is still hoping to get there.

But has his time run out?

Park, the former Winston (now Sprint) Cup driver and Kobyluck, who hails from Uncasville, both got their starts on the local tracks. Kobyluck at Waterford and Stafford, Park at Thompson, and both now make their home on the NASCAR Camping World East Tour.

Both were back in Thompson last Saturday getting a feel for a track they’re familiar with, although Kobyluck is still hoping for a bit more.

“I’ve wanted to for a long time and I would love to still,” Kobyluck said about racing beyond the Camping World (formerly Busch) East Series. “It’s just getting that opportunity, making the right connection with the right people and the right team and then it becomes a viable option.”

Kobyluck kind of missed the boat in that respect early and he’s paying for it now. The 38-year-old went to college before he began his racing career.

“I started racing when I was 24 years old, and the Busch Series and the Nextel Cup Series wanted guys who were in their early 30s — experienced guys,” Kobyluck said. “By the time I got there, the model had completely flipped and they wanted the 18- to 24-year-old guy. I kind of missed the whole cycle and that’s the way it happens sometimes. I’m pretty comfortable with what I’m doing, but given the opportunity, I would love to make the jump.”

Getting the call

Park, meanwhile, made that jump back in the late ’90s when he got a call from the legendary Dale Earnhardt. Although he, like most people probably would do, dismissed it as a prank at the time. Earnhardt had noticed Park’s ability in 1996 and offered him a ride in the Busch (now Nationwide) Series. By 1998, he was running a Winston Cup Car and picked up a couple of victories on the tour.

The slide, however, began in 2002 when he was released by DEI. He signed on with Richard Childress for a year before leaving the Cup Series in 2004 for the Craftsman Truck Series. Four years later, he’s on the Camping World East Tour and happy about it.

“I don’t (want to go back),” Park said. “Heck, I’m 40 years old and they’re not looking for the next 40-year-old. Harry Gant was the last 50-year-old to win a race, but I would like to run in the truck or the Nationwide Series. I’m not the oldest guy in the world, but I don’t want to do a 38-race schedule and never see my home again for the next 10 years.”

Park said he races because he loves to race and doesn’t want to put himself and his family through the grind of a Sprint Cup schedule nor does he see the appeal of it any more.

“Racing has changed so much over the last few years. I see more racing in the truck series than I do in the Sprint Series,” Park said. “To sit in front of the television or sit in a race car, or in the stands for four hours, to me, that’s not racing, it’s passing the time.”

Park also likes to win, and if you’re not running a Hendrick car or some other well-supported team, winning is rare. He doesn’t see a top-five ride coming his way any time soon, nor does he envision a top-15 ride being offered. That means, even if he got back on the Cup circuit, winning would not be part of the formula.

“That’s all you see, it’s cubic money,” Park said. “I’ve been there, I’ve seen it and raced it first hand. I was racing with the Pettys and the Earnhardts and now there’s been a changing of the guard. I don’t know if that’s for the better or worse.”

Still got to drive

Park agrees that Kobyluck doesn’t fit the model that Sprint Cup owners are looking for now, but that doesn’t mean the drive isn’t still there. Still, Kobyluck lacks no confidence about his ability.

“I honestly believe I have the talent to do it,” Kobyluck said. “I would love the opportunity to showcase what I can do with a solid team and, hopefully, it will happen. I could do it with my own team, but you have to have a sponsor that’s going to foot the bill. That’s what it boils down to. It’s what keeps us, as a team, from going to the next level — sponsorship dollars.”

Kobyluck didn’t have a lot of fun at Thompson last Saturday as he wrecked his primary car in practice when he picked up debris and “destroyed” the car in the turn-three wall. His back-up car qualified fourth fastest, but then it also ran into debris trouble as a blown right-front tire forced him into the pits. He then worked his way through several turn-two accidents to finish seventh overall in the 100-lap feature.

“I was telling my guys that I’m going to have to take up slalom skiing because I ‘slalomed’ through those wrecks and didn’t make any contact,” Kobyluck joked.

All in all, Kobyluck has no complaints about 2008 thus far as he has recorded a win at Watkins Glen, three top-five finishes, and five top-10’s on Tour.

“We’re going in the right direction,” Kobyluck said. “We have a lot of good things happening for us and the cars are performing well.”

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