“I thought we could get in the top 10 in points,” he said. “Maybe win a race or two.”
So far, he’s been close on all accounts.
Gale, who will start fifth in today’s Fred’s 250 powered by Coca-Cola, sits 13th in the points with five races to go and just 26 points below the bar he set for himself.
While he hasn’t yet graced victory lane, he’s been close. He just hasn’t finished the deal.
But there will be time for that, and more seasons for that, too. And if history is any indication, Gale, 27, is in good hands.
Atop Gale’s pit box each week is his crew chief, Jerry Baxter, who has been responsible for bringing along NASCAR talent when they were just cutting their teeth on the series’ asphalt ovals.
Baxter guided David Reutimann to a second-place Nationwide series finish in 2007, and has worked with Scott Speed, Martin Truex, Jr. and Trevor Bayne, too. Though Baxter, 53, said he never really thought he had the patience to mold young drivers, he’s figured out how to make it work somehow through his tough-love philosophies.
And he said never has he been more proud to see Bayne, his pupil for 28 races in 2010, take the checkered flag in NASCAR’s biggest race, the Daytona 500.
“When Trevor won,” he said. “Me and my guys, it kind of felt like we won.
“… it just makes you feel good.”
While the big picture of Gale and Baxter’s season isn’t bad, Gale used the words, “up and down” to describe his season of around and around, and it’s dead-on accurate.
After a less-than-stellar start to the season, Gale posted a pair of Top 10 finishes at Dover and Ft. Worth. Then followed that up with a 25th and 26th.
Sixth in Chicago, then a four-race stretch of no better than 14th.
Heading into this weekend, it’s 5, 19, 7.
And all total, for Gale’s five Top 10s, he’s also got three DNFs.
But with a young racer, it’s a steep learning curve on the oval tracks. Periods can’t be measured in seasons when so much knowledge — and seat time — is being gained with each passing week.
As far as what he sees right now — especially in the past month — Baxter said he’s been pleased.
“Early in the year, he was so new,” Baxter said. “He was scared to tell us what he was feeling in his butt for fear of telling us the wrong thing. Now, he’s comfortable. …
“And when I can trust in him, it makes my job way easier.”