When Atlanta Motor Speedway president and general manager Ed Clark talked to Georgia native Reed Sorenson about moving into the No. 43 car and his new boss Richard Petty, a brief quip offered by the driver revealed the depth of his new work relationship.
"It's a little different testing when 'The King' [Richard Petty] is there watching you," Sorenson told Clark.
Sorenson, who cut his teeth racing Legends cars at Atlanta Motor Speedway as a youth, is often soft-spoken and plays his cards close to his chest. But when questioned about the move to the No. 43 that many consider the most famous car in NASCAR history, it's apparent the talented NASCAR upstart understands the expectations and history that come with the territory.
"I guess the pressure is to get [the No. 43 car] back in victory lane," said Sorenson. "I think that's going to be the biggest pressure point on that. Once everybody on our team found out that we were going to be the 43, you could kind of tell in their eyes that it was something different than most of the other numbers that we could have had."
Sorenson may have his best opportunity to park the No. 43 in Victory Lane and claim his first NASCAR Sprint Cup win at the March 8 Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Despite never claiming a first-place finish in the Sprint Cup Series, Sorenson's statistics are solid at Atlanta Motor Speedway with three top-10 finishes in seven appearances at the 1.54-mile track.
"That number has a lot of wins - over 200 wins - and we'd like to contribute to getting [the No. 43 car] some more," said Sorenson. "Getting the 43 car to Victory Lane in Atlanta would be great for me, Richard Petty, the fans and the team.
"Obviously, it means a lot to me to run good in Atlanta and get a good finish there and hopefully win a race there one day," added the Peachtree City, Ga. native. "Anywhere we could win with this number and with this new team would be great. But it would mean a lot to me, as a driver being from Atlanta, to win there."
In addition to Sorenson's Atlanta ties, Petty is tied for third all time in Sprint Cup Series wins at Atlanta Motor Speedway with six.
Sorenson garnered the opportunity to drive the No. 43 car after Gillett Evernham Motorsports, with whom Sorenson signed following the 2008 season, merged with Petty Enterprises to form Richard Petty Motorsports in the offseason.
"It's exciting," exclaimed Reed after shooting media footage at the Richard Petty Museum. "There's a lot of history behind the number and Richard is a great guy to have around and I think he is going to be around with us at all the races. He likes to be around the races and kind of sits back to see what is going on. He puts in his input and anytime anybody needs to talk about something, we can lean on him to talk to because he has a lot of knowledge to pass. He's pretty smart about this business so he is a good person to lean on."
But despite all the excitement surrounding working with a living legend, Sorenson understands the difficulties facing a young driver working with a new team. He also understands these difficulties are exasperated by NASCAR's new restrictions on testing.
"This season is going to be good, but there are a lot of unknowns with the testing ban and not being able to test at a lot of these tracks," explained Sorenson. "We are kind of going in blind with me being a new driver with a new team. It hurts us not being able to go test at these tracks, so we are just hoping California and Vegas go well and that way, once we get to Atlanta, we will know what we have. But it's definitely going to be a challenge the first few races."
As large as the challenge may be, Sorenson is in better shape having a legend in his corner to advise him. And come March 8 for the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Sorenson, the hometown driver, will have a six-time AMS winner to assist his efforts.
Great tickets are available for the Kobalt Tools 500 on March 8. To purchase your tickets, contact the Atlanta Motor Speedway Ticket Office at 877-9-AMS-TIX (877-926-7849) or 770-946-4211, visit www.atlantamotorspeedway.com , or contact your local Ticketmaster retailer.