Like many of the young guns in racing, Shane Hmiel comes from racing blood. With a strong finish in the season opener at Daytona and a record setting qualifying run at Nashville, Hmiel wants drivers, and critics, to know he is doing it on his own-though a little advice from his fellow drivers never hurts.
I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to drive for Innovative Motorsports in 2002 and compete for another Rookie of the Year title-this time in the NASCAR Busch Series. The transition from the Goody's Dash Series, where I won two races, to the Busch Series has been rather smooth considering the difference in cars. This year I am dealing with a much heavier car with tremendous horsepower.
The season started off great with a fifth-place finish in Daytona. Because most of the drivers didn't want to draft with me due to my lack of experience, it was difficult being a rookie in that race. However, I think we really turned some heads by running strong right out of the box. Most of the credit goes to Gere Kennon and my crew who have been giving me great cars week after week. As a rookie, it has been extremely beneficial to have a veteran teammate like Kenny Wallace. He's seen and done it all.
However, my good luck didn't stay with me for the second race of the season. We almost won the pole at Rockingham in February, but I lost it on the second lap (of qualifying). We should've started on the outside pole, but of course we ended up at the back of the field because of my crash in qualifying.
My qualifying run at Nashville a few weeks later made up for my slip-up in Rockingham. Along with winning the pole, we ended up setting a new track record. What a great feeling to get the pole and lead my first lap in NASCAR Busch Series competition. Unfortunately, I didn't get the finish I wanted. But, as the saying goes, "That's racing." Sometimes you finish worse than you should have, and sometimes you finish better than you actually ran. It all evens out in the end.
Finishing fifth at Daytona, winning the pole in Nashville, and leading my first lap in a Busch race-that was all great. But it all leads me to working with my dad, Steve Hmiel. As a kid growing up, he was always racing-recently as DEI's technical director. I figured if I could get into racing, I would get to spend more time with him. Now I'm working right alongside guys that used to work with my dad.
However, even working with the great guys who have worked with my dad didn't get me out of a couple wrecks this year. Dale Earnhardt Jr. sat down with me and told me I needed to slow down a little. Everyone already thinks I'm a good driver, he told me. So I need to just take my time and take care of my cars. Dale Jr. is one of the best, if not the best, out there. I have learned so much just by sitting back and watching him for the last few years.
Hopefully, one day soon I'll actually be racing with Dale Jr. every Sunday. But for now, I am going to concentrate on being the best driver I can be and take each race one at a time.