How crucial will practice/past experience be this weekend in Road America?

For the first time in nearly 65 years, the NASCAR Cup Series will return to Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin to compete on the world famous Road America this Sunday, July 4 at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. The Jockey Made in America 250 Presented by Kwik Trip race marks just the second time in series history that Road America has hosted a Cup event.

In the early 1950’s, sports car races were being run on the streets in and around Elkhart Lake, but the state legislature banned racing on the public roads soon after. A man named Clif Tufte organized a group of local citizens and leaders of the Chicago Region of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA). This group developed plans and sold stock to build a permanent racecourse. The overall vision of Road America grew out of the dreams of Tufte, a highway engineer, who chose 525 acres of Wisconsin farmland outside the Village of Elkhart Lake for the track. Ground broke for Road America in April of 1955 and the track’s first SCCA national race weekend was held later that same year (September 10, 1955).

At 4.048-miles in length, 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 tracks in the world.

The first, and up until this weekend, the only, NASCAR Cup Series race at Road America was on August 12, 1956. An estimated crowd of 10,000 braved terrible weather to watch the event. And in an unusual ruling, NASCAR limited the cars to 10 gallons of fuel at start the race.

The August 12, 1956, race was won by NASCAR Hall of Famer Tim Flock driving a Mercury for car owner Bill Stroppe. Flock led 17 laps of the 63-lap event, making just two pit stops en route to his win; his fourth victory of the 1956 season. Flock won with an average speed of 73.858 mph and did it in 3 hours, 29 minutes, and 50 seconds. He won the race by a 17 second margin of victory over second place. Bill Stroppe’s cars actually finished 1-2 in the race with Flock winning and his teammate Billy Myers finishing second.

Road America will be the fourth of seven road courses on the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series schedule. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell won the first road course race of the season at the Daytona Road Course, followed by Hendrick Motorsport’s driver and 2020 series champion Chase Elliott won at Circuit of The Americas and then Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson won at Sonoma Raceway.

With all of this being said, how much will practice play a role in Sunday’s race? While some may think it could prove to be very beneficial, multiple people in the garage say otherwise. While any track time is good, don’t take them wrong, having just a 50 minute session at a track that spans 4-miles in length doesn’t do much.

With a lap time of over 2 minutes long, you already don’t have as many runs as you’d like. Some say between 2-3. But, if you find you could use some tweaks to your car, you don’t have much time in the garage to do so. For every minute that you’re sitting idle, it’s every minute lost out on track time. Then, with such a long lap, are you going to get any true indications on if your car is really that good or really that off and if any changes really actually helped or not?

That’s why some say past experience could be advantageous.

For drivers and teams when it comes to approaching how to prepare for the debut of a track on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule, any previous experience or knowledge of the facility can be advantageous to the process. With this weekend’s venue, Road America, brand new to the series, drivers with experience at the 4.048-mile course in the NASCAR Xfinity Series might have a slight upper hand.

The NASCAR Xfinity Series has competed 11 times at Road America (2010-Present) and 28 of the 40 drivers entered in this weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series race have competed in the Xfinity Series at Road America, led by 2021 Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell, Ross Chastain and Josh Bilicki with five Xfinity Series Road America starts each.

The 11 NASCAR Xfinity Series races at Road America have produced 11 different winners. Four of the 40 NASCAR Cup Series drivers entered this weekend at Road America have won in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at the 4.048-mile road course – Austin Cindric (2020), Christopher Bell (2019), Michael McDowell (2016) and AJ Allmendinger (2013).

“I didn’t race there in the Xfinity Series, so I’ll be one of the inexperienced guys,” said Denny Hamlin. “I like going to unfamiliar places. I like the process of trying to learn them. The great drivers have a way of figuring it out when they go someplace new. I hear it’s pretty smooth and has some heavy braking zones. You’re going to have to have a car that works well under braking. All road courses pose a challenge. Getting laps in the simulator, of course, helps. But, I’m excited about it. I love the challenge of being somewhere for the first time, and that track is certainly going to pose that challenge for me.”

Hamlin did go on to say that winning on Sunday would be huge in the sense that any inaugural event win is big.

“Any time you can win somewhere new, especially when everyone is there for the first time, it makes it more special,” he continued. “It means you adapted to that racetrack quicker than everyone else. There will be some drivers that have some Xfinity experience there, like Kyle Busch, and they’ll have a little bit of advantage over us. But I’m sure once we get through some practice, we’ll be good.”

NASCAR Cup Series, Etc.

Pulling Double Duty at Road America – AJ Allmendinger, Austin Cindric, Josh Bilicki, Justin Haley, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch will all be competing in both the NASCAR Xfinity Series race on Saturday, July 3, and the NASCAR Cup Series race on July 4 at Road America.

Hendrick Motorsports winning pace – Hendrick Motorsports is at the top of their game this season already winning nine races in the first 19 events of the 2021 season. Hendrick Motorsports in 2007 set the Modern Era record for the most wins by an organization in a single season with 18 victories, until it was surpassed in 2019 when Joe Gibbs Racing scored 19 Cup victories in a single season.

What is interesting is that at this point in the 2007 season (19 races completed), Hendrick Motorsports had produced nine wins just like this year heading into to the 20th race on the schedule at Road America.  

 

Hendrick Motorsports is coming off a streak of six consecutive NASCAR Cup Series wins – a record in the Modern Era that the organization has accomplished twice (2007, 2021).

With 17 races left in the 2021 season and so many similarities to the 2007 season, it will be fascinating to see if the Hendrick camp can make a run at the Joe Gibbs Racing single season wins record.

SportsCar stars Tilley, Eversley are entered this weekend – Two drivers that cut their teeth in IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Kyle Tilley and Ryan Eversley will be attempting to make the NASCAR Cup Series race this weekend at Road America.

This will be Kyle Tilley’s second start in the series this weekend and he will be piloting the No 78 Live Fast Motorsports Ford with crew chief Frank Kerr. Tilley made his series debut earlier this season at Circuit of the America’s for Live Fast Motorsports, starting 39th and finishing 31st. Tilley is no stranger to Road America, he has one IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship start at the track where he started fourth and finished third in the ORECA LMP2 07 for Era Motorsports last season.

Ryan Eversley on the other hand will be attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series career debut at Road America this weekend driving the No. 53 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet. It will also be Eversley’s career track debut at Road America.

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