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Little ready to race in front of Tri-Cities family and friends

Jeff Birchfield • Aug 13, 2018 at 5:05 PM

Jesse Little grew up in Sherrills Ford, N.C., and considers Charlotte Motor Speedway to be his home track. But there is also a home feel when he comes to Bristol Motor Speedway, where he will drive the No. 96 Toyota in Saturday's Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race.

The second-generation NASCAR driver will be making his second Monster Energy Cup Series start at Bristol. Just as important, it will be a chance to perform in front of family and friends.

Little's father is former NASCAR Cup Series driver Chad Little and now the NASCAR Director of Officiating and Inspections. His mother, Donna, is a Dobyns-Bennett graduate and his grandmother, aunt and cousins still live in Kingsport.

The Littles still have many close ties to the Tri-Cities, and have vacationed with close friends, the Hausman family from Johnson City.

"To come to Bristol and see everyone, as well come to the track, they not only enjoy it, but they're so supportive of me and that makes it special," Little said. "Of course, there's just the atmosphere of Bristol. It's a blast and while the track can be unforgiving, that's what makes it challenging and fun."

Little, who has two wins in the NASCAR K&N Series, is also a student at UNC Charlotte, where he's majoring in international business. Stock car racing, however, is his true love — and the opportunity to compete at the highest level with Cup Series champions like Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick is something he doesn't take for granted.

"It's surreal and humbling at the same time," he said. "But it's something I've worked for my whole life and something I want to do my whole life. I'm very appreciative to have this opportunity. My goal is to gain respect and show people I belong there. I want to finish the race and I would love to finish on the lead lap. A top-25 or top-30 would be fantastic."

Little, who won the pole for the K&N Series PittLite 125 at Bristol in 2015, doesn't have the equipment and horsepower to race the top drivers for the victory. That means his focus has to be more about being the best in class.

"I have to keep focused and remind myself the goals are to come out of there with the car in one piece and we can beat some teams who have a lot more equipment and resources than Gaunt Brothers Racing," said Little, who finished 35th in his Cup Series debut at Kentucky. "One goal is to beat some drivers who have a lot more laps than I do. I just have to take what the car will give me and race my own race."

The mindset is different for Thursday night's UNOH 200 for the Camping World Truck Series. Racing the No. 97 Ford for his uncle Jason's team, Little has four top-10 finishes in five Truck Series starts — completing all 838 laps so far this season.

"I feel like we should have a shot to win the race," Little said. "With the way it's set up, I don't have to worry about going back and forth between the car and the truck. I feel like our Truck stuff has gotten better throughout the year and as consistent as we've been, I feel we're knocking on the door for that first win."

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