DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Just when it all seemed to be a breeze for NASCAR Trucks Series rookie Cole Whitt, he got a weekend's worth of reminders that nothing comes easy in racing.
Whitt, the promising 19-year-old in Red Bull Racing's stable, rolled into Kansas Speedway for Saturday's Trucks event as the youngest leader of the points race - and he stormed out in sheer frustration.
Whitt's No. 60 Chevy was tight in Friday's first practice. Just when his team started making gains there, the motor began acting up. Whitt wasted his next run trying to figure that out rather than exploring Kansas City's 1.5-mile track, and even a new motor couldn't get him higher than 16th in qualifying.
It turned out the new engine had the same problem as the old one, vapor lock, and whatever gains Whitt made on race day were lost after he was penalized for speeding on pit row.
Whitt finished 15th, quickly surrendering his points edge to veteran Johnny Sauter. Whitt is second, however, just 12 points behind Sauter heading into Friday night's race in Texas.
``It was just one of those weekends where it seemed like nothing could go right from the beginning,'' Whitt said. ``It seemed like every time we felt like we were starting to rebound from a mistake that we had, something else would go wrong.''
Weekends like that figured to be just part of the learning curve Whitt was supposed to have this season in the Trucks Series.
That he hasn't had many of those so far is a testament to his talent and potential.
Whitt won't turn 20 for a few weeks, but he's been a driver to watch for years after hopping from karts and sprint cars to stock cars. He and his mother, Kim, moved from California to Indiana to pursue the sport full time a few years back, and in 2008 he won the USAC National Midget championship, the youngest winner in the sanctioning body's history.
Whitt showed enough promise in NASCAR's developmental K&N Pro Series East that Red Bull put him behind the wheel for a pair of Nationwide races toward the end of last year. He finished 15th in Phoenix and 17th at Homestead and was slotted for a full year in the Trucks circuit for seasoning.
Despite adapting to a track that's essentially new to him every week, Whitt became the first rookie to take the Trucks Series lead after the second of back-to-back top-three finishes in Charlotte.
Whitt has five top-10s in eight starts. He's been the only driver in the series to complete every lap so far.
``At the beginning of the year, being realistic, we thought if we could go run top-fives it would be really good. That's still pretty much our goal,'' Whitt said. ``Kansas is going to be a little bit of a steppingstone to step over, but I feel like it's always good when we kind of have something like that. It seems like we always rebound really well. I almost would say it knocks the run back down to perspective. Everyone's got to dig back down and go after it again.''
Whitt's ultimate goal is the one shared by everyone in stock cars, to get to Sprint Cup and stay there. But he's probably looking at another year or two running Trucks or Nationwide events before that possibility opens up.
Still, Whitt doesn't think it'd be all that crazy to at least get his feet wet in Sprint Cup in 2012 - and he's got the second half of the Trucks schedule to try to convince Red Bull he's ready to do so.
Whitt also is confident the second half of the year will go even more smoothly than the first, simply because he'll have more experience to lean on.
``If I had next year to pick the way I'd want to do it, I'd want to either run for points in the Nationwide or Trucks Series and do selected starts in the Cup series,'' Whitt said. 'But if they say it's time to go, it's time to go.''

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