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Boris Said, the Cinderella Man

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by Eric Johnson
July 3, 2007

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Boris Said last year in the Pepsi 400

It was a muggy early Summer Friday afternoon in Daytona Beach, Florida. An hour earlier, Boris Said had wheeled his Sobe/No Fear Energy Fusion Ford around the larger than life track that Bill France had built way back in 1959 at a lap of 186.143. Now, he just watched on as a substantially-sized field of cars fought for all they were worth to try and find their way into the 2006 Pepsi 400. One by one they went out, each Nextel Cup machine trying to scratch and claw their way up the black and electric yellow scoring pylon. But when all was said and done, it was #60 at the very top, the Bud Pole winner for the next evening’s Pepsi 400.

Nobody could believe it. Not even Said. So thrown and, understandably, out of sorts, the hardest working man in all of auto racing — a man who would — and still will — drive anything anyone put before him — needed a few security guards to direct him to the Bud Pole press conference. You see he wasn’t really sure where to go.

90 minutes later, Said and car owner Mark Simo, just the two of them, were sitting in a tiny, working class Italian restaurant across the street from some beachside hotels that had seen better days.

“Can you believe a couple of idiots from Carlsbad [California] just won the pole at Daytona?” asked Simo, mauling a piece of pizza as if it were his last meal.

“Yeah,” mused Said, “maybe we should just go home now.” And he said it half seriously.

But nobody went home. The next evening, before 110,000 fans, Boris Said was leading the Pepsi 400 with just a handful of laps to go. Again, nobody could believe it. Yeah, Tony Stewart and the Busch brothers shoved him back to fourth by the time the checkered flag was pulled from its quiver, unfurled and waved, but still, it was an old school Cinderella story that aren’t really readily available in this day and age of NASCAR. The media loved it. The fans loved it. Simo, Said and crew chief Frank Stoddard loved it. “Now what do we do,” wondered Said while driving through the outskirts of Orlando later that night.

Since that evening almost 365 days ago, the #60 Sobe/No Fear Energy Ford has qualified for every Nextel Cup race it has lined up for in 2007 (competing in the Daytona 500, Aaron’s 499 and Toyota/Save Mart 350 thus far). Outside the top 35 teams in owner points, the team has fared considerably well considering it has had to brawl for its life against all the other ‘go home' cars competing for the lone seven spots available at each and every race NASCAR Nextel Cup race.

Which brings us to the 2007 Pepsi 400. Yes, Boris Said qualified sixth for the 2007 Daytona 500 and placed 14th overall, but at this point, at least in the eyes of Team #60, all that adds up to something close to nothing.

“I’m not really the nervous one now,” began Boris Said, driving a motorhome south from Charlotte but a few days after placing ninth at the Infineon road course race. “I was the nervous one at Infineon because there was no margin for any driver error when it came time to qualify. This Friday at Daytona, the pressure to qualify is more on the team and Frank [Stoddard]. It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be hard on all the teams. It’s going to be especially hard because all the teams outside of the top 35 in owner points have gotten so much better. At Talladega we qualified eleventh and almost missed the field. If we were one tenth of a second off, we could have gone home. The sport has actually gotten harder now. We can’t take things for granted because we won the Bud Pole last year. I’m going to be on pins and needles until Friday afternoon. With how competitive it is now, you can’t be lulled into a false sense of security. The pace of the sport is just so much faster. And to be honest, the cars I’m fearful of at Daytona are the Toyotas.


Boris Said

“I guess I’m cautiously optimistic,” answered Said of Old Faithful, his still “at it” Ford Superspeedway car. “We have a great car. We’re going to go with a full qualifying setup to try and make the race. If we get in the race, we’ll spend the first half of it changing things on pit row. If we get it, it’ll be interesting as we’ll have to be pretty creative with our pit strategy.”

Truth be told, it was crew chief Frank Stoddard’s wisdom and witchcraft that put Boris and the #60 Ford in a position to win last July. But Stoddard, who has been at this game for a while now, is all too aware that there is no such thing as past tense in NASCAR. A Bud Pole and a top five finish at Daytona last summer has done little to allow him to sleep easier at night this week.

“I’m very nervous,” conceded Stoddard of the team’s chances at Daytona. After a few beats of thought, he went on. “Talladega qualifying was tighter than I had hoped for and I think this Friday at Daytona will be even worse. I hope we have made some small gains with our car and, yes, it all adds up on the stopwatch, but it will be tight just to make the race.

“We’re not looking for the pole. We’d be happy just to make the race. The car is as ready as we can make it and we certainly have put some effort in for this race. It is a great car for Daytona as it really qualifies well and it drives really well in race trim, so that helps make it a great car.

“We could do real well in the race if we get in, but you never know. You just need good strategy and to stay clear of the wrecks. But having said all that, I will be happy to just still be at the track come Saturday. Everything after that will be a huge bonus.”

Team owner and Boris Said’s best friend Mark Simo is also quite pragmatic about the days to come. “Because of what happened last year, we can’t go there [Daytona] thinking the same thing is going to happen,” he said. “It’s so competitive and there are so many good guys. Sure, we’d like to go to Daytona and repeat what we did last year, but how many times have you seen where one guy will be the fastest at one place and then be nobody at the very same place the next time. We’ll always go at it where we’ll try and work harder than anyone else, but then again, we’re one of the ‘go or go home' teams and we have to work harder. We just have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

And with that, Simo took a long look at the entry list for this weekend’s Pepsi 400.

“I guess we’re just a couple of tools from Carlsbad trying to get in the big leagues,” he sighed — and smirked. “At this point in time it’s better to be lucky than good.”

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