LOUDON -- The calm before the Sprint Cup storm settled over New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Thursday.
The drivers and crews of the K&N Pro Series East worked their cars and went through technical inspections at one end of the infield and those of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Series held sway at the other.
All was quiet on the track. That changes in short order at 8:30 a.m. today when K&N practice kicks off the weekend.
Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth and the rest of the dozen drivers dueling in the Chase for the 2013 Sprint Cup Championship practice for the first time at noon. Center stage is theirs for most of the weekend.
Thursday was for guys like Cory Joyce, 21, and a former Gilford resident about to take his next step toward a NASCAR racing dream, and Nashua's John Salemi, a K&N veteran who has his eye on the future, too.
"This could jumpstart everything for Cory," said Mark McFarland, his crew chief in the Caplin Family Charities Chevrolet. "It's his K&N debut. It's at his home track. You can really shine or people can look at you and say, 'Well, I don't know if he's got it.' Not to put any pressure on Cory, but he can really do a lot for his career here in front of a lot of people."
That's the goal.
It's been a rough year for Joyce and he'd like nothing better than to turn it around and perhaps come out of Saturday's race with a headstart on setting things up for next year and beyond.
"It's been kind of a tough racing year for us," Joyce said. "Our motor blew up at Rockingham and we've been trying to get it rebuilt. My parents decided it was time to make our big step and go to a K&N race and what better place to make my debut than at Loudon?"
A year ago, Joyce finished eighth on the United Auto Racing Association STARS Series, but his engine blew in his first race on the circuit at Rockingham and he hasn't raced since.
With financial help from his parents, he got into this ride and will see what he can do with it.
It's not the end-all, be-all for his racing career, Joyce said, and he'll continue trying to build his career no matter.
"If it doesn't put us there, hey, I've driven a K&N car," Joyce said.
"That's the way I look at it."
He likes the bottom line.
"My butt's in the seat this week so I'm pretty excited about that," he said.
Still, a good showing here certainly could help.
Ideally, Joyce said, this race will help him line up sponsorship for next year and let him get into a K&N car fulltime and perhaps even a truck series race later in the season.
Saturday is the next stop in a journey that started when Joyce, at age 7, walked into the garage at home and saw the go-kart that his parents, Kevin and Teri, had gotten him for Christmas.
Joyce — who also has started a clothing business called Shibby Clothing Line with a friend — competed for a couple of years at Sugar Hill Speedway in Weare and then started racing regionally.
When he was 13, the family moved to North Carolina to let him get even more serious about the sport.
Joyce said he'd like to finish in the Top 20, maybe Top 15, on Saturday.
McFarland, who liked the way Joyce stepped in and offered feedback at a testing session last week, ups the ante a bit.
"I really think we can run in the top 10," he said. "I really do. You get on the other side of the garage and there are a lot of stout teams with a lot of money behind them. We've got a good car. We've got a good driver. We've just got to put everything together."
Salemi, who has cut back his K&N schedule the last couple of years largely because of the distance from home to races, is targeting a Top 10 finish as well.
"There's no reason why we can't do that," said Salemi, who has good equipment and a best finish of sixth here.
At 41, Salemi is looking ahead.
"We're going to keep with it," he said. "I have an 11-year-old son who's racing go-karts and he's wheeling it. He reminds me every day, 'Dad, don't give up because I need to run your car someday.' He does a very good job. When he's 15, I think he'll be ready."
If all goes well then, Kyle will take over in the seat and Dad will be his crew chief.
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