DILLON, S.C. — When Jonathan Shafer made the move from Nelson Motorsports to Lee Pulliam Performance during the offseason, he did so with hope of being able to spark a championship run on the CARS Late Model Stock Tour.
To do that, Shafer knows he needs to break into victory lane and that’s the goal for the 15-year-old native of Ashland, Ohio, starting this weekend at Dillon Motor Speedway.
Shafer will take the wheel of the renumbered No. 91 for car owner Lee Pulliam, chasing his first CARS Tour victory at the four-tenths-mile paved oval during Saturday’s Black’s Tire 125.
Under the watchful eye of the four-time NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series champion, Shafer was the fastest car in testing on Thursday, but he knows that early speed doesn’t always tell the final story.
“It gives me confidence, but we’re always trying to get better,” Shafer told SPEED SPORT in a phone interview Thursday night. “I like this place, though. It’s a lot of fun to drive. I felt comfortable right away and Lee always brings really good cars to the race track; we knew that from racing against him last year.
“If we can keep this kind of strength up, I like where we could be for the race on Saturday. You never fully know, but I think we’ll have good speed.”
Shafer noted the strength of team he saw when racing against Pulliam’s fleet last year, as well as the mentor that Pulliam has been to young drivers in the past, were qualities that stood out when he was making the decision of which team to join for his second season with the CARS Tour.
“The Pulliam cars, no matter which car it was, always ran strong every weekend last year and we knew at the end of last season that we were looking for a new team for this season … and when we talked to Lee, all the experience he has and the strength of his equipment really stood out to us,” Shafer tipped. “We figured out a deal with him andthings have gone really well so far. I’ve felt really comfortable working with Lee and his guys and I feel that we have a great opportunity this year to make some noise.
“Working with this team is a great chance for me to gain more knowledge and learn even more of the skills that I need to eventually move up the ladder,” Shafer continued. “You can’t stop learning, especially with the amount of experience that Lee has to pass on. I feel like he can really coach me and mold me into a better driver than what I am now.”
No longer a rookie, Shafer comes into this season with a clean slate and experience at most of the tracks that the CARS Late Model Stock Tour will visit.
He finished ninth in points on the strength of four top-10 finishes last season, as well as a pole at Virginia’s Dominion Raceway, where he came home a season-best fourth after leading 58 laps.
Shafer’s main objective is to quickly erase the goose-egg he has in the win column and contend for a series championship, hoping to exceed the standards that Pulliam’s team has met in late model competition in prior years.
“I really think we were close to winning last year, but this year I’ve definitely circled getting a win as a big priority and believe we’re capable of doing that,” he said. “With the extra edge that Lee’s leadership provides and the knowledge throughout the whole team, we have all the tools we need to be successful.
“I’d say our goal is to be contend for a championship and just to be up there running for the points title because that means you’re in contention every week and doing all the things that we feel we need to be doing,” Shafer noted. “I think that would be a pretty big accomplishment for us and, hopefully, we can do just that.”
Coverage begins at 3 p.m. ET Saturday afternoon.