For Ken Schrader, the feeling of driving a race car hasn’t changed in more than a quarter of a century.

“I still get the rush,” the 50-year-old NASCAR Nextel Cup driver said.

That’s why Schrader, whose last of four wins in NASCAR’s top stock car series came in June 1991 at Dover, doesn’t even like to talk about retirement.

Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway will be the Missouri native’s 665th Cup start since making his debut in 1984. But that’s really only a small part of the story.

Schrader has driven hundreds of races in midgets, sprint cars, late model stocks, IROC and just about anything with four wheels and a motor – a powerful motor.

“Yeah, you can say I like speed,” Schrader said with a grin. “Mostly, I just like being around race cars and racing people. It was my hobby and it became my job and I still love it every bit as much as I did when I started.”

Right now, Schrader is finishing up a season that would be more than frustrating to a lot of drivers. He has started all 32 Cup races this season, but has just three top-10 finishes and only nine of 20th or better, including last Sunday’s 13th-place run at Martinsville.

Worse, he has failed to finish eight races this season.

Driving for the one-car BAM Racing team, in only its third full season of operation, Schrader, who spent nine years earlier in his career with the elite Hendrick Motorsports team, is now part of what he considers a growth situation.

“Yeah, it’s frustrating and aggravating just a little bit,” Schrader said. “But you’ll just pull in here with these trucks and, whether you unload as the Roush team or the Hendrick team or the BAM team, you just unload with everything you’ve got.

“We’re unloading the best stuff we’ve got, which is good stuff. We don’t have four teams to go comparing notes to, but you do what you can do with what you’ve got. It’s not like they’re unloading stuff that we don’t have. They just have a lot more of it.”

So Schrader is soldiering on.

While a contemporary such as Rusty Wallace has a retirement tour in his final season, Schrader plans to go out quietly – when the time comes.

It’s expected that 2006 will be his final year in Cup, with Schrader then concentrating on his Craftsman Truck team and any short-track opportunities that come up.

Eddie Jones, BAM’s general manager, said they signed Schrader in 2003 because the young team needed the stability and experience of a veteran driver. The chemistry was immediate.

“Kenny’s passion for racing is obviously important, but not necessarily a reason we hired him,” Jones explained. “He and I see eye to eye on several things that I considered to be important to the progress of the race team: We both believe in taking care of equipment and finishing races. There’s no need to wreck equipment during testing, practice or qualifying unless it’s a mechanical or equipment failure.

“We both agree it’s one thing to wreck going for a win or a top 10, but another issue entirely if you wreck racing for 25th or 30th. What’s the point? Twenty-five or twenty-six? They’re both bad, and it doesn’t matter what or where you’re racing.”

If 2006 does turn out to be Schrader’s final season in Cup, Jones knows how he and the team would like Schrader to exit.

“Obviously, we’d like to win a race with him,” Jones said. “Taking all the facts that are given, I don’t think a solid top 25 in the points is too much to ask for, either. Everything in racing is a series of stairs to climb, and for us, that’s the next step.”

Schrader, who is 34th in the points this season, also believes he can still be effective on the race track.

And Schrader, who has often run more than 100 races a year, certainly has no plans to slow down any time soon, Cup or no Cup.

“After I’m out of (Cup), I’ll probably race more because I’ll have more weekends,” Schrader said. “I mean, instead of running one race on a weekend, I can be somewhere else running three.”

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