Only two days ago, Hmiel had no plans to complete this year in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck series. But he received a call on Tuesday to return to the vehicle he drove last year and just in time for the March 18 World Financial Group 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
He will be taking over for Earnhardt, who will not be racing at Atlanta because of lack of sponsorship.
¿Kerry is a great guy,¿ Ballew said. ¿It takes lots of money to keep these operations running, and because of lack of sponsorship we were unable to run Kerry in the Atlanta race.¿
Shane Hmiel was more than happy to accept the offer to drive the No. 15 after his immediate success with the team last year made Billy Ballew Motorsports a familiar place to Hmiel.
¿This is like my home (Billy Ballew Motorsports),¿ Hmiel said. ¿Billy is like a father to me. He¿s always there to bring me back into racing, and last year he paid out of his own pocket. Racing with him feels like Saturday night racing, six guys and the truck, that¿s it. It¿s good to come here and be the fastest above these factory-backed teams.¿
And Hmiel was the fastest during Tuesday¿s test, despite jumping back in the truck just that morning. Hmiel circled the fastest track in NASCAR in 30.81 seconds (179.94 mph). ¿Right now it¿s fast,¿ Hmiel said. ¿Our Chevy truck is great. Now all we¿re working on is trying to come here and win a race for our sponsor.¿
Ballew is anticipating an announcement regarding that new sponsor within the week.
Bobby Labonte also continued testing Wednesday as the team began to make changes to the truck, trying to find a better balance for what they think is needed for the March 18 World Financial Group 200. Turning in a lap of 31.02 seconds (178.72mph), Labonte seemed content with his team¿s progress.
¿It¿s OK,¿ Labonte said. ¿We stayed about the same as yesterday. We¿ve done qualifying runs already, so now we¿re just going to work making changes and see how they affect the truck.¿
Brad Keselowski also tested his Craftsman Truck on Wednesday, turning in a top lap of 31.50 seconds (175.999 mph). Busch drivers Blake Feese and Stanton Barrett joined Wednesday¿s test. Feese was fastest in his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, turning in a lap of 30.14 seconds (183.94 mph). Barrett was just a tick slower at 30.18 seconds (183.69 mph).
Testing will continue throughout next week as drivers prepare for the upcoming March 18-20 Golden Corral 500 race weekend. Great seats are still available for all three days; for more information call Ticketmaster or the Atanta Motor Speedway ticket office at (770) 946-4211 or visit www.AtlantaMotorSpeedway.com.