NASCAR XFINITY Series championship contenders have their sights set on Road America
NASCAR XFINITY Series championship contenders Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones visit Road America this Friday and Saturday looking to showcase their road course acumen in the final race of the series’ summer run of road contests.
The NASCAR XFINITY Series’ (NXS) trek to the Wisconsin road course marks the third race with both left and right turns over a four-week stretch for the series, including events at New York’s Watkins Glen International and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. For the Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) drivers, the Road America 180 Fired Up by Johnsonville marks the final opportunity to showcase their road course skills this year.
With a background full of late model and stock car successes, Jones was playing catch-up on road courses when he joined the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) part-time in 2013. But after working with two different racing schools, he captured his first NASCAR road course victory at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in 2015.
“I went to the Ron Fellows (Performance Driving) School and I went to the Bondurant (Racing) School with Chris Cook as well, so a couple of different mentalities between the two schools and just kind of merged together what I could pick up,” said the driver of the No. 20 Camry after his 2015 win. “I saw it as if, ‘Hey, if I can get a tenth each time I go to those schools, it’s worth it,’ and I feel like I did. It wasn’t something I went out and did and was like, ‘Oh, man, I don’t like this at all,’ so it’s just something that always was fun for me and I wanted to get good at.”
Jones’ road course triumph in Canada was one of three victories in 2015 that helped propel the young Tundra driver to the NCWTS driver’s championship and Rookie of the Year honors. Now competing in the NXS, Jones is a favorite to vie for the XFINITY Series driver’s title in his first full-time season.
For Suarez, the native of Mexico grew up racing road circuits in his home country before competing on both ovals and road courses in the NASCAR Mexico Series. Following his successes in the Mexico Series, the driver of the No. 19 ARRIS Camry moved to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and onto the NXS and NCWTS, but he competed on fewer road courses at each level.
“My racing roots come from racing go-karts on circuits and it’s always fun for me to compete on those types of tracks,” said Suarez. “[Five] years ago, I might have said that I prefer road courses more than ovals, but right now I love running both.”
The JGR driver captured his first-career NASCAR national series victory in the NXS at Michigan International Speedway in June by besting his mentor and Truck Series team owner, Kyle Busch, the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, on the two-mile oval.
Suarez, another frontrunner for the NXS title, first visited Road America in 2015 where he started 10th and raced among the event’s leaders before a flat tire, as well as transmission and battery issues, relegated the Camry driver to a 24th-place finish.
Prior to 2016, Jones had made just two-career NASCAR road course starts – both at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in the NCWTS – with finishes of third and first in 2014 and 2015, respectively. The driver of the No. 20 Reser’s Camry also has an average starting position of 2.5 in those events.
As both drivers look to showcase their strength on the longest road course on the schedule, Suarez and Jones will have a final opportunity to capitalize on their road racing prowess and build towards the 2016 NXS Chase for the Championship playoffs.
Aside from the NXS Championship contenders, a local rookie, Nicolas Hammann, from nearby Elkhart Lake will attempt his second start in the NASCAR XFINITY Series at his home track in the No. 74 Mike Harmon Racing Dodge Challenger.
Hammann, who is currently a student at UNC Charlotte, was the 2014 North American Nissan GT Academy winner. Hammann’s experience includes: karting, SCCA road racing, endurance racing in a Nissan GTR GT3, the IMSA Continental Tire series in a Nissan 370Z, and the Nissan Micra Cup series.
“I can’t thank Mike and his team enough for this opportunity. I would also like to thank my family and sponsors for all their support to make racing at Road America in the NASCAR XFINITY series a reality. Growing up as a kid watching races from the stands, I only dreamed I would get to race in NASCAR at my home track of Road America, proving dreams can come true!” said Hammann.
Everything for the Road America 180 Fired Up by Johnsonville NASCAR XFINITY series race and SCCA Pro Trans Am weekend begins on Thursday with test sessions for Trans Am from 9:00 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Thursday afternoon the NASCAR XFINITY Series team haulers will gather at Times Printing Company in nearby Random Lake prior to their convoy to Road America. Last year’s hauler parade drew hundreds of NASCAR fans and an impressive welcome was also extended between local residents. Times Printing and Road America expect even greater hauler participation and attendance this year and encourage all fans, residents and businesses along the route to participate in welcoming the return of the NASCAR XFINITY Series teams to Sheboygan County.
The haulers will gather for the party at Times Printing Company in Random Lake between 2:30 and 6 p.m. Fans are invited to attend, free of charge. The Random Lake Fire Department will hold a brat fry fundraiser featuring Johnsonville brats on-site in conjunction with the party and the event will be held rain or shine.
The convoy to the track will be led by a Johnsonville semi and will depart around 6 p.m. following Hwy 57 north. After turning west on County Road J, the convoy will proceed north on Hwy 67 to Road America.
Practice and qualifying takes up the majority of the day on Friday from 9 a.m. to 6:35 p.m., and there will be no shortage of things to do for fans as there will be a driver autograph session from 3:30 to 4:15 p.m., near the new Victory Lane.
As part of NASCAR’s new KIDS DRIVE NASCAR program children ages 8-14 are invited for a kids only NASCAR Garage Tours on Friday at 1 p.m., 1:30 p.m. and 2 p.m., led by a NASCAR driver. The tour includes a FREE gift for each youth that participates – space is limited. All Children must be pre-registered Friday morning between 8 a.m. and noon at the tent on the North end of the NASCAR Garage in the Paddock (Near St. John the Baptist Concessions Stand).
The green flag drops at 2 p.m., Saturday afternoon for the Road America 180 Fired Up by Johnsonville NASCAR XFINITY Series race. Additional rounds for the SCCA Pro Trans-Am Series will fill up the action-packed weekend. There will be open karting all weekend at the Road America Motorplex plus the Road America Zip Line will be open daily.
Tickets are available and additional event details; ticket pricing and camping information can be found at www.roadamerica.com or by calling 800-365-7223. Anyone 16-years-old and under are free with a paying adult at the gate. Racing runs rain or shine.