Bryan Roach not only hopes to set the pace in this weekend's Cellular One NASCAR 300 at Brainerd International Raceway.
The Minnesota native also will maintain a grueling pace, particularly Saturday, to honor a former crew mate.
His weekend itinerary included practice Friday afternoon at BIR, racing in a Super Late Model event Friday night at Fergus Falls, returning to qualify Saturday at BIR, racing in a Super Late Model event Saturday night at Sauk Centre and returning to BIR for the NASCAR 300 Sunday.
The Sauk Centre race was a memorial event for Jeremy Johnson, a member of Roach's crew who was killed by a drunk driver in November on his way home from work. Johnson was one of Roach's "tire guys."
"It's kind of bittersweet," Roach said of the Sauk Centre event. "I've got to go, I want to go. I wouldn't miss it for the world.
"He was my tire guy, tire changer, tire carrier, tire sizer. He was the man."
The 35-year-old Roach is one of the "old men" in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division Midwest Series. In his third year, Roach entered this weekend eighth in season points (1,256). He trails the leader, Justin Diercks, by 479.
"We were sixth going into Pikes Peak (July 31 at Fountain, Colo.)," Roach said, "then we wrecked the car. That dropped us to 10th. We're battling back. Now we're back to eighth. I want to get back to sixth."
High school: Minneapolis North
Car: No. 99 Chevrolet Monte Carlo
Season points: 1,256, eighth place in series
Roach finished ninth in the last event, Aug. 14 at Columbus, Ohio.
"It was like a dinner plate, round with no straight-aways," he said of the Columbus Motor Speedway. "It was really fast, an easy handling place."
Roach is hoping for a top five finish at BIR. He has had three top 10 finishes and one in the top five in 10 events this season.
"The biggest thing here is to stay on course, don't go off in the beginning part of it," he said. "Then, at the end, you can get a little aggressive. For me it's a learning experience."
BIR has been a learning experience for virtually every driver in the Midwest Series.
First, it's a road course, with three left-hand and seven right-hand turns. Most NASCAR tracks are ovals or teardrop shape and only turn left.
"I've never, ever, driven a road course," Roach said. "This is turning right a lot.
"There are fast corners out there. Turns 1 and 2 are fast, Turn 3 you're on the brakes kind of hard, trying to slow down. Other than that, so far so good because I haven't hit anything."
Second, BIR's three-mile road course is by far the longest on the circuit. Only two tracks that host Midwest Series events are longer than 5/8ths of a mile.
"This is the biggest thing we run on," Roach said. "Everything else is a mile, a mile and a quarter. The front stretch is a mile long so you've got a lot of time to think about what you're doing. So far I don't mind it."
Roach has come a long way but realizes the jump to the Nextel Cup Series is far off.
"If I make it to (Craftsman) Truck I'm happy," he said. "For Busch Series, I'm getting kind of old. They're looking for guys 17, 18, 19 years old. That's the way it's turned."
As long as Roach can turn, preferably left, he's happy.
Mike Bialka can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5861.
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