Each time Brad Coleman and Matt DiBenedetto pull their belts tight, they know they are sitting in a car capable of winning.
That's what Joe Gibbs Racing does in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. JGR drivers have claimed half the checkered flags this season--the most recent of them Saturday night--and took the title last year with Kyle Busch.
The cars are fast and reliable and the people who work on them are second to none. So the opportunity Coleman and DiBenedetto enjoy may be unrivaled by any other young driver in the series.
But that enviable position brings an impossible task. They ought to win like Busch and Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano too, right?
"Yeah, people are saying that, and yeah, it's a good car, but I don't think it's fair to compare me to Kyle Busch," said Coleman, who is scheduled to race about a half-dozen times.
"Kyle Busch does more races in two weekends than I do in a year. I'm sure he does a hundred races a year in tons of different cars, and he has so much seat time and experience, and he's such a good race-car driver. . . .
"I don't get to race nearly as much as I'd like, but there are a bunch of young drivers out there that don't have any rides at all. I'm blessed to be in the situation I'm in."
Busch, the primary driver of the No. 18 entry, and Hamlin and Logano, who share the No. 20 Toyota, have combined to win 40 Nationwide races since the start of the 2008 season. Busch owns 23 of those victories, and Logano earned the most recent Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway.
But those three will stay in Sonoma, Calif., with the Sprint Cup Series this weekend, giving Coleman and DiBenedetto a chance to race in the inaugural Bucyrus 200 at Road America. Practice opens Thursday, and the race is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the 4-mile road course in Elkhart Lake.
"It's a really good situation," DiBenedetto said. "I'd love to do more races, but coming into the team I didn't have much more to offer than me with my driver suit and helmet.
"I'm really happy and excited that I have the six (races this year) and get some experience, and hopefully we'll get some more next year."
DiBenedetto, 18, has made all of two starts in Nationwide, last fall at Memphis and two weekends ago at Nashville, where he finished 10th. Coleman, 22, has raced 27 times for Gibbs since the start of 2007.
Whereas 10 years ago teams placed an emphasis on developing talent, now, with a down economy and a young field of drivers in the elite Sprint Cup Series, opportunities such as those Coleman and DiBenedetto have are rare.
With that comes undeniable pressure. Blow this chance, and there might not be another.
It's the job of Gibbs' management and particularly Steve de Souza , who supervises the team's Nationwide Series program, to help manage expectations and minimize stress.
"We sit them down and point-blank have very direct discussions with them so they don't go in there feeling like they're bulletproof and invincible and that they can do what Denny and Kyle do," de Souza said.
"They understand what's important at this point is to run all the laps and finish all the races and then get what they can get out of it. If it's a win, that's awesome. Both guys, we feel, at some point can do that, but that's another day."
Throwing a curve at Coleman and DiBenedetto--or, more accurately, 14 curves--is the fact that Road America's 4 miles of meandering asphalt couldn't be more different from the ovals of all sizes typically raced by the series.
Coleman has a background in road-racing and actually has competed at Road America, albeit in the Star Mazda open-wheel steppingstone series.
DiBenedetto, who grew up in karts and mini-sprints, drove two road races last year in the NASCAR East Series, winning the pole at both Lime Rock Park and Watkins Glen International. DiBenedetto studied a videotape of the track made earlier this year by road-racing champion and NASCAR part-timer Boris Said and has raced Road America virtually on the iRacing computer simulation game.
DiBenedetto will at least start Thursday knowing where the pavement leads. But he'll have plenty more to figure out during 5 1/2hours of track time Thursday.
"There are so many more things that I really don't know what to expect," DiBenedetto said. "I'll go out there and probably make a fair number of laps and as I get comfortable pick up the pace and not go off track--that's a big goal, too--because I'm sure there'll be a bunch of people who do.
"I'll be the biggest description of a rookie as there is out there, pretty much."
But that's what this season is about for both DiBenedetto and Coleman, isn't it?
Learning, improving and taking advantage of a limited opportunity with tremendous potential so that someday even the highest expectations aren't unrealistic anymore.