Some call it the “Car of Tomorrow,” some call it the “Car of Today.”
Steve Arpin calls it the car that helped him earn his first top 10 finish in NASCAR Nationwide Series racing.
The local driver was able to adjust to the “C.o.T” car, which saw its first Nationwide action during Friday night’s Subway Jalapeno 250 at the Daytona International Speedway, and finish 10th in his fifth race on the circuit.
Teammate Dale Earnhardt. Jr. took the checkered flag.
“It was pretty cool,” enthused Arpin, 26.
“With the way the first three or four Nationwide races started out, we were struggling and just getting caught up in a lot of wrecks and that kind of thing,” he noted.
“I really needed a good run, and I had the time of my life.”
As he alluded to, Friday’s race was a stark contrast to some of his earlier outings, where Arpin often found himself in the thick of the action, which tended to end badly.
“The earlier races I was in, I was just always pushing so hard and wanting to be right in the middle of it all the time,” he explained.
“These races, I’ve matured a little bit, and got a little bit of patience.
“I’ve learned my lessons the hard way,” he remarked.
Arpin said driving a little more defensively turned out to be a wise choice given accidents ended his day in two of his first four Nationwide races.
“There are a whole bunch of situations when you’re out there that I just need to back off of the gas instead of keeping my nose in there and in a bad situation,” he admitted.
“There [were] three or four times during that race where I could have just dug a little bit harder and fought for the position instead of just giving the position up, and sure enough, two of those times, I backed out of it and the guys I was racing with ended up wrecking.
“Sure enough, at the end of the race, we’re still racing.
“We don’t have a scratch on the car, and we’re in a competitive spot at the end,” he concluded.
And that was a lucky case since the car was a new style the Nationwide Series is adopting for select races this season in order to ease the transition to full-time use next year.
NASCAR debuted the cars in the Sprint Cup Series in 2007.
The cars were designed to increase safety over older designs, but also have aerodynamic differences to which the drivers must adjust.
“It was pretty wild. It was a handful,” Arpin reported.
“They were just so loose all the way around Daytona, we were just slipping and sliding,” he noted.
“It was like running around a two-and-a-half mile high-banked dirt track at 190 m.p.h.”
Arpin said he still had a lot to learn about the car when he took his position in 15th spot on the starting grid Friday night since he only had had practice sessions with it.
“It’s the first time we’ve had it out at all in race conditions,” he explained.
“It’s just learning the adjustments, learning what the car likes, learning what it doesn’t like. . . .
“Nine times out of 10, you learn what the car doesn’t like before you learn what it does like,” he remarked.
“You learn the hard way through all your adjustments.”
The race took on added meaning for Arpin’s teammate, Earnhardt, whose father, Dale Sr., was killed on the final lap of the Daytona 500 back in 2001.
His death helped jump-start efforts to get a safer car on the track.
Earnhardt raced in the #3 car as a tribute to his father, and Arpin said the emotion was overflowing when Earnhardt won the race.
“It was unbelievable,” he said. “There were tears in absolutely anyone’s eyes who was part of [it], and the fans even.
“It was such a meaningful night.”
Arpin’s next Nationwide action will be July 17 at the Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealers 250 in Madison, Ill.
That will be his first race in JR Motorsports’ primary car, which is a stepping stone to Arpin getting his own line of merchandise.
“I’m going to be in the No. 88 car, the primary car for JR Motorsports,” he enthused.
“Now that I’m running the No. 88 car, they’re going to be making all sorts of souvenirs like T-shirts and die-casts and that,” he noted.
Arpin expects the merchandise will be available through the JR Motorsports within a couple of weeks.