Quin Houff knows all about pressure.
Just flash back to April 22, 2017. That’s when the native of rural Weyers Cave, Virginia, made his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“People said I was crazy when I decided to jump in and run at a tough track Bristol for my first race,” said Houff in a telephone interview Friday afternoon. “I was with a part-time team and it was like I wasn’t supposed to be there.”
Houff survived and thrived to post a 15th place finish.
The challenge intensified for the 22-year-old Houff this past Sunday at another famed venue known for multiple wrecks and extreme tests.
After making the 323-mile drive from his home in the Shenandoah Valley to the humid sandhills region of South Carolina by himself Sunday morning, Houff underwent a health screening on the grounds of the historic track.
“All the drivers were quarantined in our motorhomes following that, and then we just walked to straight to our cars about 10 minutes before the command to fire engines,” Houff said.
According to Houff, the instincts and adrenaline kicked in shortly after the green flag fell.
“Obviously, it was different without any fans,” Houff said. “It was almost like we were at a test session instead of a race. The fans are such a huge part of our sport, but right now we all have to take the necessary precautions.”
Houff said he was proud to be part of the 400-mile event which earned huge television ratings and attention from leaders of other pro sports.
“Hats off to NASCAR and all the health officials they worked with to put a protocol and safety measures in place to make the race happen as soon as it did,” Houff said. “Hopefully from here on out, we can slowly move to a more normal situation for everybody.”
As for the event Houff had to settle for 36th due to a mid-race accident with Aric Almirola and late-race electrical gremlins on his No. 00 StarCom Racing Chevrolet.
“We had some problems, but my team worked hard to get me back on the track so I could get some valuable laps,” Houff said. “That helped.”
The Darlington initiation continued Wednesday night. Once again, there was no practice, no qualifying and no extensive pre-race meeting
“Before last week, I had no personal experience at all with Darlington aside from watching those races with my dad on TV,” Houff said. “It was a really big learning curve.”
So what did Houff do to prepare?
“I watched plenty of film from past Darlington races and did as much simulated racing as I could,” Houff said. “Darlington is one of the tougher tracks in the series. It’s very unique with two different corners and it has an abrasive track surface. We had to run right up against the fence.”
Houff paced this test in style. He finished 26th, the best performance in his 23 career Cup starts.
“I was excited that we were finally able to put things together as a team and show people that we can have a better result,” Houff said. ““Those first two Darlington races were definitely a challenge, but I think we all put on a good show.”
The next show is Sunday’s Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
As part of the Memorial Day ceremonies, the Houff car will feature a tribute to United States Marine Corporal Nicholas G. Xiarhos who was killed in combat while going to the rescue of his brother Marines on July 23, 2009 in Afghanistan.
“It’s an honor to race with Nick’s name on our car,” Houff said. “I was able to speak with Nick’s father on my way to Darlington and the story of what Nick did for our country was very inspirational.”
Houff said he gained more inspiration upon learning that Xiarhos lived by the motto of “Living the Dream.”
“That kind of went full circle for me because I’ve had the same motto since becoming a driver in the Cup series,” Houff said. “What we do in NASCAR would not be possible without the sacrifices of soldiers like Nick. I wish we could have Nick’s family with us at the track, but I will be doing all I can to honor him in the car.”
From the time Houff joined the StarCom team in November of last year, he’s had one track circled on his schedule and that countdown is almost over. The rescheduled Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway is set for May 31.
“Living in Virginia, I was always going to Bristol races with my father from a young age,” Houff said. “I cut my teeth racing late models on short tracks, and Iove everything about Bristol. The harder you drive at that place, the faster you go.”
Houff failed to finish among the top 29 in his two Cup starts at BMS last year. But he does have a proven Bristol baseline dating back to his 2017 breakthrough in the Xfinity series.
“Bristol was a really good jump start for my career and it was awesome to run that well at a place I grew up loving,” Houff said. “I was excited when Bristol was chosen as one of the first tracks to hold a race in this new season.
“Next week at Bristol will be huge for everyone in the sport, especially the fans watching at home.”
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