By Tim Tuttle
February 05, 2010

Two years ago, Reed Sorenson was a contender in every race he ran during Speedweeks at Daytona. He finished fifth in the Budweiser Shootout, second in the Gatorade Duel 150 qualifying race, and fifth in the biggest Sprint Cup race of them all: the Daytona 500. Sorenson had just turned 22. The sky seemed the limit. His was a career that was about to blossom.

The Daytona fifth is the only top-five Sorenson has had in the past two seasons. Top-10s have been hard to come by, too. He had two with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2008 and one last season with Richard Petty Motorsports, which released him. Circumstances dictated part of that decision: RPM merged with Yates Racing and there were five drivers under contract and only four entries allowed under NASCAR rules for 2010. Sorenson, unexpectedly, became a free agent at a time of contraction in Cup, with fewer sponsors, teams and cars making it difficult to find a competitive team.

"There weren't a lot of good Cup rides available, none really," Sorenson said.

Sorenson took the next best option. He signed with Braun Racing, the top non-Cup affiliated team in the Nationwide Series. Braun is moving up to Cup with five races this season, starting with Daytona. Sorenson will also drive in 23 Nationwide races for the team this season.

It's a situation that offers the opportunity to rebuild his career. Sorenson has three wins and 22 top fives in Nationwide. In Braun's No. 32 Toyota, he should add to those totals. On the Cup side, he's leading a start-up team that will have to qualify into all five races. So, in a way, Sorenson is the quarterback of an expansion franchise, and any measure of success will have a big upside.

"I think I have a lot to prove," Sorenson said. "You want to make sure that people know that you're still out there and you belong here. I think we can do that by winning a few races [in Nationwide] and making these Cup races with a start-up Cup team. I think that will show a lot of people."

"We feel like we have a shot to win a couple of Nationwide races for sure," he continued. "The Cup deal is a challenge. It should be a fun experience, as long as we qualify for all the races. We want to make the races and then learn once we do make the race and then build a foundation for the rest of the year and next year."

Sorenson will likely have to race into the 500 in the Duel 150. The only guaranteed positions from qualifying are the front row.

"There's nothing I can do qualifying wise," Sorenson said. "It's all about the car. The main focus for me during the offseason was getting the car ready for Daytona. Hopefully, we can make the car better in practice. I kind of have a good feel for what you need in the car at Daytona and we'll try to get our car good enough where we can race our way in. There's definitely pressure. It's the biggest race of the year. We're nervous, but excited. We feel like we have a good shot at making it."

Sorenson drove in five races in Nationwide with Braun last season. In his two in the No. 32 Dollar General Toyota with crew chief Trent Owens, he finished second at Gateway and third at Phoenix. He'll be teamed with Owens in the Cup and Nationwide programs this season.

Team owner Todd Braun had been approached last season by Dollar General, which has been with him since 2008, about moving the team into Cup. When Sorenson became available to run Cup and Nationwide races, he was the driver Braun and the sponsor went after.

"We had it in the back of our mind what we wanted to do, but you never show your cards all the way," Braun said. "Reed was the best fit for us and Dollar General. We wanted somebody we could do a long-term deal with if we do Cup full time in the future. Reed has a good mixture of youth and experience."

Braun established his team in 2002, moved it into Nationwide in 2003 and has built it step-by-step into a strong organization. Toyota recruited Braun in 2007 and Jason Leffler gave the program its first victory that summer at O'Reilly Raceway Park. Braun has three Nationwide wins. Last year, the No. 32, with Brian Vickers, David Reutimann, Brian Ickler, Jacques Villeneuve and Sorenson driving, finished seventh in the owner points. Leffler was fourth in the driver points in the No. 38. The team will have four full-time cars in Nationwide this year. Vickers will share the No. 32 with Sorenson.

"Dollar General was interested in doing some Cup racing and we wanted to stick our toes in the water and see what happens," Braun said.

Braun calls entering a car in the Daytona 500 "one of my lifetime dreams." He also knows the difficulty in making the race. "It's going to be a tough deal to make," Braun said. "If we make it, we'll count our blessings. If we don't, we'll move onto Atlanta."

Braun has bought two restrictor-plate Cup cars and formed a dedicated Cup team. Owens is one of two people working in the Cup and Nationwide programs. The team is using motors from Joe Gibbs Racing.

"It is a full-time Cup effort, the best we can do," Braun said. "We've been in the wind tunnel and shaker right with the cars. We've made a full effort and we'll see if it's rewarded."

Braun believes in Sorenson, but also understands he's in a rebuilding process after finishing 32nd and 29th in Cup points the past two season. Sorenson was 24th in his rookie season of 2006 and 22nd in 2007.

"Reed needs to get a little more confidence under his belt, get back into the swing," Braun said. "We're going to give him a good feeling. This is a great opportunity for him, our team and our sponsor."

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