Notes of Interest
● The Jockey Made in America 250 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, is the fourth of a ground-breaking seven NASCAR Cup Series races to be held on road courses in 2021. From 1988 to 2017, there were only two road courses on the schedule – Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway and Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. The Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway Roval was added in 2018, giving the series just three road-course venues. The initial 2021 schedule doubled that tally with Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas, Road America, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course all being added. And when COVID-19 restrictions forced the cancellation of the series’ planned stop earlier this year at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, the road course at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway was put in its place, serving as the series’ second race of 2021.
● It has been 65 years since the last time the NASCAR Cup Series raced at Road America, and Sunday’s Jockey Made in America 250 will be just the second Cup Series race at the road course located 65 miles north of Milwaukee. The genesis of racing at Road America began in the early 1950s when sports cars raced on the streets in and around Elkhart Lake – until the Wisconsin state legislature banned racing on public roads. So, Clif Tufte, a civil engineer and racing enthusiast who was president of the Elkhart Sand and Gravel Company, went to work. He organized a group of local citizens and leaders of the Chicago region of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) and they collectively developed plans and sold stock to build a permanent road course. It helped that Tufte’s company just happened to own 525 acres of virgin land outside the Village of Elkhart Lake. Ground was broken for Road America in April of 1955 and the track’s first SCCA national race weekend was held on Sept. 10, 1955. At 4.048-miles in length and with 14 turns, the track is virtually the same today as it was when it was first laid out. The natural topography of the glacial Kettle Moraine area was utilized for the track, sweeping around rolling hills and plunging through ravines, making it one of the most challenging circuits in the world. The first and, until this weekend, only Cup Series race at Road America was on Aug. 12, 1956. An estimated crowd of 10,000 braved terrible weather to watch the event, which was won by NASCAR Hall of Famer Tim Flock driving a Mercury for car owner Bill Stroppe. Flock led 17 of the race’s 63 laps, making just two pit stops en route to his victory. Flock won with an average speed of 73.858 mph and did it in 3 hours, 29 minutes, and 50 seconds. It was his fourth victory of the 1956 season and he claimed it with a 17-second margin over second-place Billy Myers
● Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Busch Light Apple Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing, has made a total of 45 NASCAR Cup Series starts on road courses. He has 20 starts at Sonoma, 19 at Watkins Glen, three at the Charlotte Roval, two on the Daytona road course and one at COTA. He has scored two wins – Watkins Glen in 2006 and Sonoma in 2017 – along with 10 top-fives and 23 top-10s with 195 laps led.
● When Harvick scored his first road-course victory at Watkins Glen in 2006, he had to beat his current team owner to do it. Tony Stewart – the “Stewart” in Stewart-Haas Racing – had won the past two NASCAR Cup Series races at the seven-turn, 2.45-mile road course and was poised to capture a third straight win as he was leading Harvick with four laps to go in the 90-lap race. But Harvick, who had already led once for 24 laps, passed Stewart on lap 87 as the two drag-raced down the frontstretch and into turn one. Harvick held onto the lead despite Stewart in his rearview mirror, earning a margin of victory of .892 of a second.
● Harvick’s second career road-course win also had a connection to Stewart. When Harvick won at Sonoma in 2017, he gave Stewart-Haas Racing its second straight victory at the 10-turn, 1.99-mile road course. The winner in 2016? None other than Stewart. It ended up being his 49th and final NASCAR Cup Series victory as Stewart retired from NASCAR racing at the conclusion of the season.
● Harvick’s last road-course win was his first in a Ford. When Harvick won at Sonoma in 2017, he became the 83rd different driver to win a NASCAR Cup Series race behind the wheel of a Ford. Harvick has now won 23 Cup Series races with Ford, which makes him one of only 13 drivers to win 20 or more races with the manufacturer. He is currently tied with Rusty Wallace and Carl Edwards for 11th on the all-time Ford win list.
● Harvick has four road-course wins outside of the NASCAR Cup Series. Two came in the NASCAR Xfinity Series – Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal in 2007 and Watkins Glen in 2007 – and two were in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West – Sonoma in 1998 and Sonoma in 2017. Harvick’s K&N Series win at Sonoma in 1998 was three years before his Cup Series debut on Feb. 26, 2001 at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham.
Kevin Harvick, Driver of the No. 4 Busch Light Apple Ford Mustang
When you’re preparing to race on a track you’ve never been to before, you get acclimated by using a simulator. How helpful is the simulator when you don’t have that seat-of-the-pants feel?
“My big thing is just memorizing what’s next on the racetrack. You’re never going to get a good feel for the elevation, but I think the Ford simulator gives the best sense. You’re able to sit in your own seat and have your own steering wheel and you’re just in a more realistic surrounding. In iRacing, I spent a lot of time in the V8 Supercar just making laps and trying to make sure I knew the direction of the corners before I got to the simulator so I understood what I was getting into.”
Are you at a disadvantage at Road America because so many of the younger drivers who have come up through the NASCAR Xfinity Series have raced at Road America and have a good bit of experience there?
“I would say so. I would say that their experience and those visuals are definitely on their side. I think as you hear people talk about racing there and the things that happen at that particular racetrack, everybody enjoys driving the racetrack and racing on that track. It was another track we decided to run the Xfinity car, be a part of the event the day before, and try to use that real-life experience to get us up to speed for Sunday.”
Road-course racing has become more prevalent in NASCAR. Do you like it?
“I enjoy the road courses. I enjoy the environment. I enjoy going to new places more than anything now, and I think that’s what the enthusiasm and excitement has brought with this year’s schedule, just because of the fact that we’re going to new markets. We’re going to exciting places and that’s good for our sport.”
When it comes to road-course racing, do you feel that more of the race is in your hands?
“You do have more in your hands, for sure, especially when it comes to shifting and all the different things that could happen. But strategy and track position are a big part of that element too. It’s just like anything else, you’ve got to have the whole piece of the puzzle to put it all together.”
There is a lot of newness in this year’s schedule. We first saw it back in March with a dirt race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and here we are again with a first-time venue in Road America. What are your thoughts on the schedule?
“I think NASCAR has done a great job with the schedule. And really, it doesn’t matter if we’re going to a road course or an oval, just getting into the Nashville market, the Austin market, Road America having such great fans in that particular area that love racing and have showed up year after year for the Xfinity cars – it’s just great to mix things up. People like new, fresh, exciting ideas. You look at the Bristol dirt race, and we’ve raced at Bristol forever, and you show up at the dirt race and everybody wants to talk about the Bristol dirt race. ‘What did you think of the dirt race? I loved watching the dirt race.’ I think as you hear that, I hope people understand the importance of mixing the schedule up, going to new racetracks, going to new areas, going to new markets.”