Winning in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series isn't everything for Ricky Carmichael, at least for now.

After setting all-time American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) records for championships with 15 and race victories with 150, collecting multiple X Games and Moto X Games gold medals along with a record five AMA Rider of Year Awards, the 29-year-old racer from Clearwater, Fla., was ready for a new challenge.

"I knew I was at the end of my road in motocross and Supercross. I was happy with what I had accomplished and it was time to move on," Carmichael said.

Once that decision was made, he put his AMA reputation as "The GOAT," translation: Greatest of All Time, and his friendship with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kasey Kahne to work in racing circles. The networking efforts landed Carmichael a NASCAR Camping World East Series ride with Ken Schrader Racing.

"I've always been a huge Ricky Carmichael fan. My first year in Cup, I saw him in the garage at the Daytona 500 and we kind of ran into each other. We started talking, hung out over that weekend and we've been friends ever since. I love what he's done on dirt bikes.

"When he first came in (to stock car racing), we went to a test at Hickory (Motor Speedway) with a Late Model. He just needed laps. He'd never been on four wheels, he was used to two.

"You see someone like Ricky and you know he's just all-out, all the time. I wasn't sure how he would take to the car his first time, whether he'd go for it on his first lap or not. That's all he's ever done, so I wasn't sure. I told him to just work up to it and take his time. He did, which was good to see. We drove the car, talked about what it was doing and tried to help each other," Kahne said.

Carmichael continued to follow his friend's advice. He collected one pole along with three top-five and eight top-10 finishes in 13 NASCAR Camping World East starts last season. All the while, he was turning a few influential heads.

One belonged to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series star Kevin Harvick, who was considering expanding his Kevin Harvick, Inc. (KHI) NASCAR Camping World Truck Series operation to complement the efforts of three-time series champion and current standings leader Ron Hornaday, Jr.

"Last year, I was thinking to myself that we have a really strong championship contender with Ron Hornaday, Jr. I didn't know whether I wanted to run a second team.

"Then, I'm sitting at Louden (New Hampshire Motor Speedway) watching this Camping World East race. I'm watching Ricky because we'd been introduced by Clint Bowyer and had gotten to talk a little bit. I'm watching him thinking, 'That guy does a pretty good job.'

"I thought to myself, 'What if we try to put something together to see if we can help speed up his career?' He wants to do this. He has the drive, determination and mindset to do it. I want somebody like that in my truck.

"If we have to tear a bunch of trucks up, I don't care, that's going to be part of his learning curve. It's one of those deals where he's a really good person and I believe he can do it. He needs the right stuff and the right people around him. Hopefully, we can do that," Harvick said.

The owner's instincts proved to be spot on when the new driver qualified third and finished eighth in the second NCWTS race of the season at California Speedway on February 21. Carmichael's next best finish was 11th at Texas Motor Speedway on June 5. Coming into the "Built Ford Tough 225 Presented by the Greater Cincinnati Ford Dealers," his average finish through eight NCWTS starts is 12th.

"I think it's already been a successful season in the truck series. We've qualified pretty well and raced pretty well. In California, we qualified third and ran eighth. We had a top 10 going in Atlanta and got run over. We were 11th at Texas and 14th at Memphis. I've learned a lot and think I've held my own being realistic with expectations," Carmichael said.

The most challenging element of his two-wheel to four-wheel transition has been the mental challenges presented by NASCAR racing.

"On the motorcycle, you have to have way more physical strength. NASCAR is so much more mentally taxing on me. I don't know if that's just the way it is because I'm going so fast or because I don't have much experience, but it's definitely mentally tougher than racing motorcycles. It's tough learning tracks for the first time while trying to go fast," he said.

The "Built Ford Tough 225 Presented by the Greater Cincinnati Ford Dealers" should be a bit less draining because the driver of the No. 4 KHI Chevrolet was able to turn laps on the 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway tri-oval in an ARCA RE/MAX Series car during an open test on July 6.

"Kevin knows how important track time is for me and that's why he lined up the test. Now, when I come to Kentucky to race, I won't be spending all day getting the track memorized," Carmichael said.

Combine his test experience with the input he'll receive from an owner who has won the Daytona 500 along with a veteran teammate who earned a 2006 NCWTS Kentucky victory, and Carmichael is poised to earn his best NCWTS finish in his ninth career start.

"I have two great guys to lean on. Kevin has been really valuable and I appreciate that he's gone out of his way to help me. It's Ron more on the race weekends. He's been lighting up this year and it's cool for the team. I'm proud to be a part of it," Carmichael concluded.

Carmichael and the NCWTS open Kentucky Speedway's third of four 2009 race weekends opens today when they join the ARCA RE/MAX Series on the 1.5-mile tri-oval for practice sessions. Gates open at 3:00 p.m. and practice sessions will end at 9:00 p.m.

Action continues tomorrow with a doubleheader featuring the NCWTS "Built Ford Tough 225 Presented by the Greater Cincinnati Ford Dealers" followed by the "Click It or Ticket. Buckle-Up! Kentucky 150." The day also includes a concert with classic country music artist Lee Greenwood.

Weekend tickets, new infield camping and more Big Deals can be reserved by visiting the tickets pages of this Web site, by phone at 888-652-RACE (7223) or through the Kentucky Speedway ticket offices at 400 Buttermilk Pike, Suite 100, in Ft. Mitchell, Ky., or the Sparta, Ky., Fan Center off of Interstate 71 Exit 57 and Ky. Hwy. 35 North. Fans also can reserve tickets at Meijer stores and outlets.

Story by Mike Schmaltz

~Kentucky Speedway ~