Much like his days racing Dwarf cars at Shady Bowl Speedway near DeGraff, Josh Sell still spends his weekends at the race track.
But the tracks — and the cars — have gotten bigger.
Sell, 30, traded in his driver’s seat for a spot on top of Chip Ganassi Racing’s pit box as the chief engineer for the No. 1 Chevrolet driven by Jamie McMurray. The team enters today’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway in 19th place in drivers’ points and still searching for that Chase for the Sprint Cup clinching victory.
The Quaker State 400 (7:30 p.m., TNT) kicks off the final 10 races before the playoff field is set.
“Our season is so long and you can really wear yourself out,” said Sell, an Urbana native and Catholic Central High School graduate. “I try to do the same job going to Daytona at the beginning of the year as I do going to Homestead at the end of the year. You kind of gotta ride the wave. Don’t get too high, don’t get too low.”
Sell, though, can’t help but get a little more excited about coming to Kentucky than other tracks. He can’t sneak off to see a race at Shady Bowl, of course, but it’s an opportunity to see his family, including parents Mike and Barb.
Sell raced Dwarf cars — 5/8th scale replicas of American autos from the 1930s and 1940s — at the Bowl for a few years when he turned 16. He continued racing as part of the engineering program at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte but realized if he wanted to stay in racing it wouldn’t be as a driver.
“The short-track racing around (North Carolina) is a lot tougher,” Sell said. “There are so many people, if you go to a local short track they’re not just there doing it for fun or to have something do on the weekend like 90 percent of people at Shady Bowl are. A lot of people are trying to get noticed and make it to the next level.”
That’s where Sell finds himself today. He worked in the Nationwide Series with Steve Wallace and later at Richard Childress Racing with Kevin Harvick. When Harvick left RCR, things worked out for Sell to join Ganassi Racing.
As the chief engineer, Sell’s weekday job is to run computer simulation programs to figure out what basic set-up to start with. On race day he calculates the fuel mileage and helps determine when to pit.
The No. 1 car starts eighth on the grid for today’s race.
“It’s definitely a tough track,” Sell said. “We were able to come up and do a test for Goodyear at the beginning of June. I hope — we’ll see Saturday — but I hope that will jump-start where we need to be with the car.
“The way the Chase is set up this year, it seems like it’s more important to try and win a race. There’s been three or four races that we’ve had some of our better cars all year and ended up not getting the finish we should have. Nothing we could do about it. So we feel like we’re in a little bit of a hole.”