Heading for Road Course Racing
Sprint Cup Series
From Denny Hamlin
How do you approach the season’s first road course race this weekend in Sonoma?
Obviously, you have to approach the road course races a little bit different, in terms of pit strategy on Sunday and what you look for in your car. Sonoma is a very tight, technical track, as opposed to Watkins Glen, and you need to make sure your car can get off the corners. To get a good finish, you need to stay clean throughout the majority of the race, and be aggressive when it’s warranted to get around guys. We have been the victim of some aggressive driving there the past couple of years in Turn 11, so it’s important we stay up front.”
FedEx Express Notes
Sonoma Preview: The Series heads to Sonoma Raceway in northern California for the season’s first road course event on the 1.99-mile, 12-turn circuit. Hamlin is making his eighth-career start at Sonoma this Sunday, and has two top-10 finishes to his credit at the track. His best result came in his fourth start at Sonoma, driving from a 24th-place starting position to finish fifth in 2009, leading 33 laps. He also finished 10th at Sonoma in 2007. Last year, he was running among the leaders when contact from behind in Turn 11 caused suspension damage to the #11 FedEx Toyota and extensive repairs in the garage, ending the team’s day early. Hamlin has led 48 laps at Sonoma in his career.
Michigan Recap: Denny Hamlin finished 30th in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway, battling an ill-handling #11 FedEx Express Camry throughout the 200-lap event on the two-mile track won by Greg Biffle. Hamlin started 11th in the 400-mile race, driving a specially-wrapped FedEx Express paint scheme. The paint scheme was featured during the FedEx Racing Team’s inaugural 2005 season with driver Jason Leffler, who passed away last week in a sprint car racing accident in New Jersey. Unfortunately, the car was a handful for Hamlin from the start, as he fought a terribly loose condition on the green track with little grip. Crew chief Darian Grubb tried a host of remedies to the car during pit stops, including changing a right-front shock under caution, but none could bring the #11 machine to life. The finish dropped Hamlin one spot to 26th in the NASCAR standings following Michigan, 85 points out of 20th position after 15 of 26 regular season races.
Kyle Busch Quotes
Most drivers really seem to enjoy racing at Michigan International Speedway. Why is that?
“Regardless of new pavement or not, it’s wide-open racing, and you can run from top to bottom. The biggest thing used to be to find grip there. But with the new surface, there is a ton of grip now. Before, you had grip for maybe five laps, and then you’d just be out to lunch. But now the tire wear is all out the window, and the racetrack is very fast. And the wide racetrack is good. That’s what makes Michigan so exciting and so fun. That’s the biggest deal about it.”
How intense have the road-course races become?
“I think, ever since double-file restarts came about, aggression at Sonoma has gone up a lot. You have these cautions that come late in the going and cautions breed cautions – especially on a road course and especially with double-file restarts. It just seems to be out of control there. You’re trying to take everything you can get and all the positions you can because it’s coming down to crunch time. It’s a place where, for me, it’s been fun to race. I’ve won there and I’ve also had some disappointing runs there and I’ve had some mistakes there – some wheel-hop issues and things. For me, it’s a place where you’re turning right and turning left and being at a road course is kind of like an off weekend, so you try to enjoy it the best you can and hope we can stay on course and get a good finish with our M&M’s Camry.”
How challenging is it to race against road-course specialists who you might not race against on a regular basis?
“It’s different, for sure. There are a lot of guys out there who have the road-racing background, who know a heck of a lot more about road racing and technique than we do. The neat thing about road racing is just being able to have – it’s like a vacation weekend. You just go out there and have fun and do the best you can and you’ll either do really well or you’ll do really badly and you just go on to the next one. We do have some testing for it and you try to pick up on it but, with respect to who you’re racing, you can expect to race a little bit of a different crowd. (Marcos) Ambrose has been really good, of course, so we’ve been racing him more and more on the ovals, too. Juan Pablo (Montoya), the same thing. Jimmie (Johnson), Jeff (Gordon), who have been a lot better at the road courses, so now you race against them, you race against Tony Stewart. A lot of the guys who race well at both, you race against every week.”
Do you enjoy road-course racing?
“The road courses are fun. For me, I enjoy it. It’s pretty cool to go out there and race the road courses. You get to turn right, turn left and everything, so it’s fun. Sonoma is more technical just because there are more turns and it’s a little bit slower. You have to concentrate on getting off the corner a little bit and have good forward bite. Sonoma, in our M&M’s Toyota, is going to be fun, going out there and seeing what these cars have this year. It will be a fun race, though. I always look forward to going up there and challenging the road course.”
Is it important in your career to have a road-course win?
“I think it’s a good thing. I think it’s great to be able to have wins at all types of facilities. I think, in ’08 when I won the road-course races, I also won the road-course (NASCAR Nationwide Series) race in Mexico. That was a big road-course year for me, for some reason. I just clicked at all of them. We’ve run top-five and top-10 since, but haven’t quite been the car to beat at those road courses. I enjoy that type of racing and I’d like to get back to it, and it’s cool, the opportunity that comes at Sonoma.”
What’s your favorite part of racing at Sonoma?
“The elevation changes can make it a lot of fun but, in the beginning, I was lost at Sonoma, to be honest with you. I raced Legends cars and other road courses five years ago and learned the technique and stuff of shifting and braking and all that, and then got to the Cup cars and they’re so different. I was just lost. I give a lot of that credit to testing with Jimmie (Johnson) and Jeff (Gordon) a lot of times and learning a lot from those guys when I was at Hendrick and working with them. And, of course, more of that expertise goes to Max Papis, who was our test driver at Hendrick, and learning stuff from him and reading reports that he did and picking up on it, following guys like Boris Said and Robby Gordon, the guys who are good at it and are fast at it.”
Kyle Busch: Road (Course) Advantage
In most team sports, having home-field advantage can make a difference in the outcome of a game, and that typically occurs for at least half of each season in most sports. In NASCAR, however, while most competitors race at venues near their hometowns at one time or another, a driver will have usually no more than two “home games” each 36-race season.
Not so for Kyle Busch, driver of the No. M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) at Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350k at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway. The Las Vegas native feels very much at home all up and down the western part of the country, where the series races no less than five times each year from Phoenix to Sonoma.
While he’ll be enjoying a home game of sorts this weekend, Busch is also hitting the road – namely the 1.99-mile road course at Sonoma, for Sunday’s 350-kilometer challenge of both right turns and lefts.
Before 2008, nobody even thought to mention Busch as a threat to win either of Sprint Cup’s annual road-course events at Sonoma and Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. But that all changed shortly after his arrival at JGR at the start of 2008 as Busch dominated the road-course scene that year, leading 130 of a total of 202 road-course laps and capturing victories at both Sonoma and Watkins Glen.
Similar to NASCAR regulars like Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon who are known to be strong on the road courses, Busch quickly established himself five seasons ago as a routine road-course contender and has been in the hunt on road courses ever since. Most recently, Busch qualified second in August at Watkins Glen, and then led a race-high 43 laps before losing the lead on the last lap after hitting an oil slick and subsequent contact with Brad Keselowski.
Busch hopes to continue the run of consistent and strong finishes he’s gathered over the last three weeks, during which two top-five and three consecutive top-10 finishes have vaulted him to sixth in the series standings after sitting 11th prior to the event Dover (Del.) International Speedway’s “Monster Mile” three weeks ago.
So, as the Sprint Cup Series heads to its annual stop in Northern California’s Wine Country, everyone knows Busch is capable of winning anywhere in his comfortable surroundings of his “home” out West, just like he did at his hometown Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2009. They also know he’s always a threat to win on the “road” courses, as he is this weekend at Sonoma.
From Matt Kenseth
“The new car has been better everywhere this season, and I think racing at a road course is going to be no exception. The 2013 car is lighter, it’s got more downforce and it’s got more grip. It’s been better at every track we’ve been to, so it’s going to drive better than other cars have — whether that translates into performance for me and this team, I don’t really know. What’s challenging about Sonoma compared to other tracks is everything. It’s absolutely different – there are elevation changes, a lot of different turns with different radius’ and it’s just totally different than anywhere else we go.”
From Jason Ratcliffe, Crew Chief
“This weekend is the first weekend we’ll be racing the new 2013 car at a road course, and I have a feeling it’s going to be fairly different due to the new rules package. We went and tested at VIR a few weeks ago and we noticed at our test that the new tire Goodyear is bringing this weekend compared to what we ran there last year is quite different so that may affect strategy during the race. I’ve only been to Sonoma once prior to this weekend, even though I’ve been to Watkins Glen several times and know what to expect there, Sonoma is still fairly new for me.”
No. 20 Husky Toyota News & Notes:
- KENSETH BY THE NUMBERS: In 13 Sprint Cup Series career starts at Sonoma, Matt Kenseth has an average starting position of 19.4, an average finish of 20.8, and has finished within the top 15 in his last two races. Kenseth has completed 1,418 of 1,441 (98.4 percent) career laps at the 1.99-mile road course earning one top-10 finish (8th in 2008).
- JOE GIBBS RACING AT SONOMA Joe Gibbs Racing has 43 Sprint Cup Series starts at Sonoma Raceway and has earned three wins, 7 top-five, and 16 top-ten finishes. The organization has led for a total of 207 laps, has an average start of 16.7, an average finish of 16.4, and completed 4,447 of 4,549 (97.8 percent) laps.
- PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT While road course racing is not the norm for NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series, teams still focus on making sure they practice turning left and right for the two road courses the series visits during the season. Matt Kenseth and his No. 20 team spent a day testing at Virginia International Raceway (VIR) at the end of May in preparation for this weekend’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma.
- RACE INFO: Coverage of the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway (1.99-mile) begins at 2:00 p.m. ET on Sunday, June 23rd. The race will be broadcast live on TNT, Sirius XM Channel 90 and PRN Radio.
From Elliott Sadler
“I always love coming to Road America. I think we always run pretty well at road courses, and I really love seeing all of the fans that come out in Wisconsin for this race. Having two races under my belt at Road America, I feel that I have a much better understanding of what I need as a driver to be fast here. I think this OneMain Financial team is up for the challenge of this first road course so we can go there and have a really successful race.”
No. 11 OneMain Financial Toyota Event Preview
RACING IN THE BADGER STATE: This weekend, the OneMain Financial team and Elliott Sadler head to the first road course race of the NASCAR Nationwide Series season at Road America. Sadler has two Nationwide Series starts at the Elkhart, Wisc., track, with one top five finish. The driver, however, is no stranger to road courses with seven other Nationwide Series starts at road courses including four starts at Watkins Glen International, two at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve (Montreal, Canada) and one at Autodrome Hermanos Rodriguez (Mexico City, Mexico). Sadler also has 24 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series road course starts on his resume with 12 starts at both Watkins Glen and Sonoma Raceway.
LAST TIME AROUND: Last season at Road America, Sadler started from the 13th position and worked his way into the top-five by the halfway point. While battling several cars for track position, Sadler was turned on the track. Although he received minimal damage, he fell back to 27th. Sadler maneuvered his way through the field for the final 10 laps, crossing the finish line 15th.
SUPPORTING THE REAL HEROES: The OneMain Financial team will continue to support the troops while in Road America with the Real Heroes Program. The No. 11 team will host military members and their families at Nationwide Series races throughout the summer. Fans will also have the opportunity to send thanks to the troops at participating OneMain Financial branches, and through social media. For more information, visit OneMainRacing.com and utilize #RealHeroes.
TO THE POINT: Sadler holds onto the fifth position in the Nationwide Series driver championship point standings, 71 points behind the leader with 19 races remaining in the 2013 season.
LAST RACE – Michigan: At Michigan International Speedway, Sadler and the No. 11 OneMain Financial team started from the 19th position and steadily worked their way through the field. With rain looming in the area, the team opted not to pit around the halfway point of the race. As rain continued to hold off, the team was forced to come down pit road to top off with fuel and add four fresh tires. Sadler moved his way from 12th to eighth in the remaining laps, where he would notch his seventh top-10 finish of the season.
AUCTION IS LIVE: The OneMain Financial driver will sport pink Oakley driving shoes throughout the entire Nationwide Series season to show support for breast cancer awareness and honor his mom, Bell. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, and is now a survivor. This season, he will also wear special pink Oakley driving gloves. Fans will have the opportunity to bid on his race-worn shoes throughout the season, with proceeds going toward breast cancer research and education. An auction is now live until July 11 for a pair of race-used shoes and a pair of Sadler’s pink and white driving gloves. For more information, visit OneMainRacing.com.
From Michael McDowell
“I’m very excited. It’s what I look forward to all year long really – just to get those few races with Joe Gibbs Racing that I get the opportunity to do. Road America is obviously my favorite. Got a pole there and finished second there last year — led a lot of laps and challenged for the win both times we’ve been there. We just haven’t finished it off. There is a lot of anticipation, but at the same time I probably feel more relaxed going into it this year than I ever have just because the first year there was a lot of anticipation of how good was it going to be, how strong for me with not being in competitive equipment until that time and then the second year putting together a solid race, but not obviously winning it. This year for me is more relaxed going into it.”
No. 18 K-LOVE Toyota News and Notes
- JGR AT ROAD AMERICA: Since the race was added to the NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule in 2010, Joe Gibbs Racing has sent two cars to the four-mile road course each of the last three seasons. Although the team has yet to claim a win, JGR has one top-five and three top-ten finishes in the team’s six starts. It has also led 51 laps with an average start of 6.7 and average finish of 12.
- MICHAEL MCDOWELL AT ROAD AMERICA: Although he has only three starts on the four-mile road course in Elkhart Lake, Wis., Michael McDowell has quickly made himself at home. In his two starts with JGR at Road America, McDowell has started on the pole and earned a career-high second-place finish. In 2011 McDowell appeared headed to a certain victory after starting on the pole and leading 30 laps, but a late-race wreck took him out of contention and left him back in 12th. Last year he started second and finished second with a strong run that included leading four laps.
- POSITIVE AND ENCOURAGING: McDowell will not need to look further than the hood of his car for an added encouragement as the No. 18 Toyota will carry K-Love this week at Road America. K Love is a family friendly radio network with affiliates throughout the United States and always delivers a positive and encouraging message. Local fans in the Elkhart Lakes area around Road America can listen to K-Love on 91.7 FM.
- K-LOVE FAN AWARDS: Due to this year’s success, the 2nd Annual K-LOVE Fan Awards is now slated for June 1, 2014. For more information, please visit KLOVE.com.
- RACE INFO: The Johnsonville Sausage 200 at Road America begins at 5 PM ET on Saturday, June 22, 2013. The race will be broadcast on ESPN and MRN Radio.
From Brian Vickers
“I really enjoy road racing. This weekend should be interesting since I will be racing for JGR at Road America and then on Sunday for MWR in Sonoma. I’ve never even seen Road America, so this will be a new experience for me. We’ve got some long practice sessions though, so that should give me time to get used to things.”
“Going from one track to the other is going to be a challenge for sure, and not being able to practice at all in Sonoma. We’ve got a good base setup from last year though. We’ve done some testing and I think we will be good. Road racing the day prior will help. Being able to practice and qualify would definitely be better, though. I’ve been racing at Sonoma for nine years and it’s a great track. I’ve had some good runs there.”
“Over time I’ve grown to like road racing more and more. I learned a lot about road racing last year and that helped me a good bit. Running a sports car definitely helped me and gave me a new appreciation for road racing.”
From Kevin Kidd, Crew Chief
“We love road racing as a team. It is an extreme challenge, because it isn’t our ordinary style of racing, but we love taking challenges head on. Road America is a wonderful facility. The track is a pure thoroughbred in the world of circuit racing, and we are honored and excited to be able to race there this weekend. Strategy always comes into the mix at the road races. You’ll tend to work the race backwards with your pit strategy. Typically the faster your pace is, the easier it is to call the race. We hope to really work hard on Friday to get our car as good as it can be, and to open our options for Saturday in regard to strategy.”
No. 20 Dollar General Toyota News and Notes
- ROAD COURSE DOUBLE-DUTY DRIVER: Brian Vickers is the only driver entered to compete in both NASCAR road course events this weekend at Road America and Sonoma Raceway. This weekend will be Vickers first time racing, and event seeing, Road America’s 4.048-mile road course in Elkhart Lake, Wis. and his first time road racing with Joe Gibbs Racing. Vickers has not competed in a Nationwide Series road course event since 2009 at Watkins Glen International. Sunday will be Vickers’ third of nine Sprint Cup Series starts with Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 55 team this season. The 29-year-old has seven previous Cup starts at Sonoma Raceway and finished fourth there last year with MWR and the No. 55 team.
- JOE GIBBS RACING AT MICHIGAN INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY: Joe Gibbs Racing’s Nationwide Series program has six starts with four different drivers at Road America. JGR Nationwide entries have one top-five finish, three-top-10 finishes, one pole and have led a total of 51 laps on the 4.048-mile road course. With 13 of 33 races on the 2013 Nationwide Series schedule completed, Joe Gibbs Racing has six wins, 21 top-five finishes, 28 top-10 finishes, three poles and has led a total of 1,092 laps. JGR’s four Nationwide Series entries at Road America include the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota piloted by Vickers, the No. 11 OneMain Financial Toyota driven by Elliott Sadler, the No. 18 K-Love Toyota driven by Michael McDowell and the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota with Owen Kelly behind the wheel.
- THIS WEEK ON THE NO. 20 DOLLAR GENERAL TOYOTA: Dollar General vendor partners Lysol, Renuzit, Oreo, Nestle Drumstick, Velveeta Skillets, Slim Jim, Gildan, Kleenex, Sundown Naturals, Ragu, STP and Colgate will be featured on Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 Toyota Camry this weekend at Road America.
- RACE INFO: The Nationwide Series Johnsonville Sausage 200 Presented By Menards at Road America kicks off at 5 p.m. ET on Saturday, June 22. Watch and listen live on ESPN, Sirius XM Channel 90 and MRN Radio.
From Owen Kelly
You’ve driven Road America before in the Nationwide Series, but what excites you about this opportunity?
“I had a pretty good race there before. Road America is a great race track, one of the coolest road courses in America, probably in the world. It’s a cool place to race, there’s a lot of history there. First time there I had not driven a Nationwide car, seen the track, knew the tires, obviously this time I’ll be much better prepared than before and to go there with the best team is huge for me. They are used to winning and obviously I have some big shoes to fill. I think we can have a really good weekend. I’m really looking forward to it. We are as best prepared as we possibly can be, I know I am from my end and the team is. Just look forward to unloading and getting after it.”
Adam and the team have visited victory lane six times in 12 starts, do you think you can help the team reach their seventh?
“After meeting Adam I see how dedicated he is. I like Adam, he works hard, is a very clever guy – we hit it off right away, we are both on the same page as far as understanding each other, I think we’ll be able to work well together. We are all there to win but in every sport and every race all you can do is turn up and be the best prepared you can possibly be and have a bit of luck. In every race that is won there is an element of luck, but I also think you make your own luck to a certain degree. You turn up as best prepared as you can to make the most of those opportunities. I hope we can accomplish that next win, would be great!”
From Adam Stevens, Crew Chief
How do you feel about tackling a new race track and a new driver this weekend?
“This is my first trip to Road America and first time working with Owen. We just met a couple of days ago! Road racing is a lot of fun. The complexion of the race can change quickly with weather, cars running off the track, timely or untimely cautions and damage from hard racing etc. So many drivers in NASCAR have limited road racing experience and then we have a bunch of ringers with something to prove which makes for a volatile mix. The first key is to stay out of trouble. If you keep air in your tires and keep the tires on the pavement you can have a good day. The second key is to manage your track position. Road races get strung out and it’s hard to pass so you need to get out front and stay out front. This means that the teams with the best fuel mileage and best pit strategy will put themselves in good position to win.”
Australian Driver Owen Kelly Pilots First of Two Races in No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota Road America, NASCAR Nationwide Series Team Preview
This week the No. 54 Monster Energy seat will see a new driver when 36-year-old Owen Kelly tackles the first of two scheduled NASCAR Nationwide Series road-course races, Road America and Mid-Ohio, in the Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) winning Camry. Kelly, an Australian V8 Supercar driver, along with the six-time 2013 JGR winners look forward to week 13 running the Johnsonville Sausage 200 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, WI. Despite the team’s fourth-place finish last week at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, the Monster Energy team and owner J.D. Gibbs maintain first place in the series’ Owner’s Championship points. This week they look to extend that lead with the help of Kelly, eager to finally race a road course car that he prepares for the weekend.
From Tasmania, Australia, Kelly is a known professional race car driver who started his circuit racing career in Targa Road Rally with Formula Ford Racing for three seasons, then progressed to V8 Supercars in 2000. From there he has raced in Super Touring, V8 Supercars and NASCAR Grand Am Rolex Sports Cars and Late Models. Late in the 2007 V8 Supercar season he was picked up as a full-time driver for Paul Morris Motorsport replacing Fabian Coulthard.
In 2008, Kelly raced an asphalt late model, for Dale Earnhardt Jr., at Motormile Speedway in Radford, VA. He wanted to pursue a career in NASCAR and hoped to move up the ladder while securing the necessary experience. In June 2010, Kelly made his NASCAR debut in the Nationwide Series, driving for Baker Curb Racing at the 4.05-mile Road America road course, where he started ninth and finished fifth.
In 2011, Kelly prepared the race winning Road America car of Marcos Ambrose and Richard Petty Motorsports. Last year Kelly piloted the No. 54 Monster Energy Camry for Kyle Busch during practice and qualifying sessions in Montreal, Quebec, Canada at the famed Circuit Gilles Villeneuve track. Since then he’s raced six times in Australian V8 Supercars and in a New Zealand V8 SuperTourers racing series and has focused time on his athletic training to be sure he was in the best physical condition for his next NASCAR opportunity.
This year he’ll make two attempts at finally preparing and racing the car that he sets up with a Nationwide Series team, hoping this weekend’s Wisconsin start with Joe Gibbs Racing and the winning No. 54 team will give him the opportunity he’s been seeking for a first NASCAR Series win.