Cole Whitt in Dover Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

After impressing in the K&N Pro Series East this year, Red Bull development driver Cole Whitt will take his next step towards his Sprint Cup goal in a couple of weeks when he makes his Nationwide Series debut in Phoenix on November 13.

The 18-year-old will attempt to put the No. 84 Red Bull Toyota into the WYPALL 200 powered by Kimberly-Clark Professional at the one-mile tri-oval Phoenix International Raceway.

“It’s going to be fun and cool to see how we stack up against some of the bigger guys,” Whitt says. “Really, the only thing higher up that we could do is the Sprint Cup, so we will see how we go. I have all the confidence in the world in my team, my cars, and everything that we are putting together, so I have no doubt in my mind that we will go out there and run good. I am pretty excited.”

Whitt will need to qualify the car because it will be run out of the Red Bull shop rather than using another outfit, as the team did when Scott Speed ran the No. 84 prepared by Michael Waltrip Racing. 

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The maiden Nationwide appearance comes after a successful rookie season for Whitt in a full-bodied car running long races and figuring out how things play out in stock car competition. Whitt summed it up succinctly by calling his 10-race K&N Pro Series East rookie year as a “big experience.”

“It’s been a big learning curve and it took me a while to get used to it and figure out what really was fast,” he says.

“Sometimes you could run a fast lap but that doesn’t mean you will be the fastest car on a long run, which makes the difference here. We got better as the year went on and the main thing we can hang our hat on is that we were fast at every racetrack we went to, whether a road course, a short track, or a full mile track."

"To come in as a full rookie team, I think we did an excellent job for the season." -Cole Whitt

Whitt didn’t take long to show his speed in the No. 84 Red Bull Toyota, starting his NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship career with a bang by claiming pole in his opening race at Greenville Pickens Speedway. By the end of the season, Whitt took six top-5s, including three seconds, and seven top-10s and ended the year fourth overall in points and second in the rookie of the year race.

“Our main goal was to go to every race with a car that could win, and we did that,” he offers. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get our win this year, but it’s a tough series. To come in as a full rookie team, I think we did an excellent job for the season and, unfortunately the times when we had our two best cars of the year, we broke.”

His Achilles Heel was a pair of mechanical failures that robbed him of valuable points and a chance at the title. At the season’s third stop in Iowa, he took his second pole in a combined K&N East and West series race, but only lasted 139 of 201 laps after his transmission let him down. The retirement proved costly as Whitt dropped out of the points lead and never regained his advantage.

A month later, the gremlins returned in New Hampshire and Whitt again exited early and paid the price when a pinion broke in the rear gear and he ended the day 26th.

“With a series that short, it’s hard to come back after mechanical failures and try to win the championship,” he says.

“We led laps at a lot of different tracks and we ran second three times out of 10 races, so we were right there.” 

null Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Whitt comes by his speed honestly, taking eight International Karting Federation and two World Karting Association Grand National titles before moving to the United States Auto Club National series where he became the youngest driver ever to win a sprint car event on dirt.

His next step hasn’t been determined yet, but Whitt is ready for whatever Red Bull wants him to do.

“I think this Phoenix deal is a bit of a tester to see how we really stand and how competitive we are. I’m confident and I feel really good about going into this race and going to Phoenix and putting in a good run,” he says.

“I hope we can do some Nationwide stuff next year. Hopefully, they will give us a full schedule and we can contend for a championship, but if not maybe we can go to some of the races and see how we run.”

 

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