Car 54, Who is Driving You? by Mike Twist and Amy Hayes
Fultz Out, Pistone In at JCR3 Pro Cup Team
The #54 Pro Cup ride has a new driver. (51 Photos)
They won the NASCAR Southeast Series championship together in 2002…and 2004…and 2005. Their win count in that now-shuttered division was in the double digits. They tackled the USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series last season with promising results. Wherever they towed their #54 cars, they were always considered a threat to win.
But now, just days before the 2007 Pro Cup season is set to kick off at USA International Speedway, Jeff Fultz and the JCR3 Motorsports team have decided to call it quits for now. Driver and team will part ways, with Pro Cup and ARCA young gun Chase Pistone getting the nod to drive the #54.
"I will not be returning to JCR3 and the No. 54 car this year,” said Fultz. “Chase Pistone will be taking over the car. He brought a sponsorship to the team. We could have run two cars, and I am not really interested in doing that. It's time for a change.”
Fultz and his former car owners are leaving as friends.
"I have been there for eight years and the Craigs are great people. I think we have proved in the past how good they are. All these years that we have won a lot of championships and races stuff like that. But every era comes to an end and that is basically what it comes down to. It's time for a change with both parties.
“I have to thank them for everything that they have done for me. JCR3 is going to have Chase Pistone in the car, who is a real good driver. That will be a good positive thing for the team. We have had a good seven or eight years together. I definitely wish them the best, and I hope that they win a bunch of races."
That is exactly what the team is hoping to do with the help of Pistone. The young North Carolina driver has been around Pro Cup before. He even won the pole at Lakeland in his first series start two seasons ago. He’s dabbled in the ARCA RE/MAX Series and in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series too, but has never really had a solid full-season ride on any of those premier tours. This is the opportunity that he has been waiting for.
"This is the best team that I have ever been paired up with,” said Pistone. “I am really looking forward to going back Pro Cup racing this year. I have been to all of the tracks, so I think I will know what to expect. The team had a bit of a learning curve last year but hopefully this year will be a good year for both of us."
The deal has all come together in just a matter of days.
"Well we started out this season running ARCA and that deal fell through really quick,” said Pistone. “I was looking to do some Busch East stuff and I just called JCR3 to see what they had going on, and it just ended up working out at the very last minute. But I am glad it did, because we get to go make the first race and start the season off together."
The late start shouldn’t set Pistone behind at all for Lakeland though.
"I haven't been testing yet, but the team has been down there testing and they went pretty decent,” said Pistone. “The car is ready. This is the same car that was on the pole last year. I was on the outside pole with a different car last year, so hopefully by putting me in that fast car we will be able to have another pole position for this year.
"I was on the front row twice here, and I would really like to be able do that again. I think we should be up front a lot now that I am with JCR3. The last two deals I have had, have been good deals but just didn't last all year. I feel like now we are in the best stuff, and they are definitely in it to win. It's not just about making a living they are doing it for fun and want to win races. I am glad that I have the opportunity to do it with them."
Pistone isn’t just setting his goals on winning races though. He wants to deliver the team championships, just like Fultz did.
"There is no doubt about it in my mind that we actually have a legitimate shot at winning the championship,” said Pistone. “The schedule is cut back, so it should be fairly easy on us and we have been all to the racetracks before. I think once we get used to running together we should be fine."
Car owner Jeff Craig agrees.
"I just think 2007 should be a great year,” said Craig. “I think with all of the knowledge that we gained and with what he has it should add up for a great year. Hopefully he can help us out. Last year we struggled because Fultz had never been in a Pro Cup car, and that is a lot different from the Super Late Models. The tires are a lot different, so hopefully Chase can help straighten us out."
Though they won’t hit the track together until this week, Pistone has already been getting acquainted with his new team.
"I was up at the shop this week, working on the car a little bit and putting my seat in,” said Pistone. “I got to talk to some of the guys a little bit and everything is good, well prepared and I am looking forward to finishing up front this weekend."
Meanwhile, Fultz is getting organizing to continue racing this season as well. He won the Early Bird 100 Super Late Model race at Birmingham International Speedway (AL) last month, and will be in a driver’s seat somewhere very soon. It just won’t be as often as it has been over recent seasons.
"I am still going to race, I just don't have any definite plans yet,” said Fultz. “I am just going to spend some time with the family. My kids are growing up, and I haven't gotten to spend a lot of time with them. I’ll spend a little more time with home and with my job at Ginn Racing [where he works in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series shop]. I am going
to run some straight rail races maybe a few Pro Cup races for a team, and just race. It is a positive thing for both of us. I have been doing it for a long time and I just need some different stuff.
"I like to enjoy racing and lately, the last year we didn't get to enjoy ourselves so much. So sometimes it's just good to sit back and maybe take a little break, maybe make a change. I think it will be positive for both parties. So that is what we kind of agreed on.”
“I think the deal with Fultz was, that it was just time for a change,” said Craig. “We had been together for seven years now, and last year was a really bad year for everybody. We were looking to make a change, and he has his own way with the Super Late Model."
And there is also the chance that this vacation won’t be a permanent one.
"There is always a possibility of returning in the future,” said Fultz. “The Craigs have always been like a family to me. Jimmy and Marilyn are like a Dad and Mom to me, and Jeff and Jon are like my brothers. We have had a lot of good times. It is at the point where the business part of racing is growing a little bit differently. Younger drivers are wanted more, and there is a lot of money and different things with that. And I am getting to the point in my career where I still want to race but at the same time it's not everything anymore."
“We will see how this goes, but later down the road they know if they need a driver they can call on me, and anything I can do to help them I will. I will be around some tracks and hopefully JCR3 will be kicking butt.”