NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series regular Chad McCumbee hopes he can be the spark Petty Enterprises needs to move its No. 45 NASCAR Sprint Cup entry into a coveted spot in the top 35 in series standings.

The 23-year-old competitor from Supply, N.C., will sit in for regular No. 45 driver Kyle Petty on Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway where he plans to make his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start of the season and third overall for Petty Enterprises.

The No. 45 currently shows 40th in the series standings and 135 points out of the 35th spot that would ensure the car a position in future races regardless of its qualifying results.

Petty's timing for choosing McCumbee as a substitute may work out well for his No. 45 team.

McCumbee currently ranks 13th in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series standings after four races. He grabbed his first career top-five series finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway March 7 and opened the 2008 campaign with a seventh-place run at Daytona International Speedway Feb. 15. He is coming off a misfortunate 32nd-place finish at Martinsville Speedway last weekend that knocked him off the fourth rung on the series points ladder.

"The MRD Motorsports guys have been working their butts off and it's really shown. We had a misfortunate parts failure at Martinsville, but some of that stuff is out of our control. We had a battery die, lost four laps, didn't get the finish we wanted and that really killed our points position. We were fourth going into the race which was my career best and the team's career best. We have some good race tracks coming up and I think we'll be able to get back up into that top 10, maybe the top five in points.

He is happy with his team's efforts in the early stages of the season.

"We're contending for wins now, just as we did last year. We've just got to make sure we continue to have that racing luck. We've had a little bit of it this year, but didn't have any of it last weekend. Hopefully, we'll have some coming soon."

Effects from a month of March filled with heavy rain and snow at Kentucky Speedway delayed McCumbee's scheduled test activity in the No. 45 today, which means he'll rely on his previous Car of Tomorrow (COT) tests at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend. "I'm hoping there will be some similarities (between the COT and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck). I've had a little bit of time in the COT cars, maybe a total of five, six test days or so spread from the end of last year through January.

"I know it's going to be a lot different from the previous experience, but I'm really looking forward to it. It's a great opportunity from the Petties. They've been awesome to me the entire time we've been associated with each other. I had a great time last year (in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races) and I can't thank them enough. I was pretty honored to be called on this weekend to go to Texas," McCumbee said.

His primary Texas goal is simply to qualify for the race. If that goal is met, he is confident in his team's ability to deliver a solid result.

"A good result would be just making the show. That top 35 is so important. If we can get in the show, get some points, get the No. 45 closer to that top 35 and give it some momentum - that would be enormous.

"It's so hard, though. You see great teams go home week in and week out. I'd be lying if I said there weren't some pressure, but the Petties have been great about it and not put any pressure on me at all. They want us to go out there and do what we do. If we perform the way we know we can, we can get in the show and hopefully have a real good day on Sunday," McCumbee added.

With his No. 08 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series team off until April 26, the young driver has the luxury of devoting his short-term attention to his NASCAR Sprint Cup start. "Our number one goal right now is just Texas and I'm concentrating on doing the best job I can. I'll continue to concentrate on my truck program as well. Hopefully, we can run for a top-five or top-10 finish in the points in that No. 08," he concluded. McCumbee finished 25th at Pocono last season and 41st at Michigan International Speedway in his two previous NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts with Petty Enterprises.

Story by Mike Schmaltz

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