The stars Trackhouse should target for its NASCAR Cup plan
The Trackhouse team run by Justin Marks and co-owned by rapper Pitbull already fields two Cup Series entries for Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez, but plans to enter its #91 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 at least once during the remainder of this Cup season. “Project 91’s mission is to activate the intersection point of NASCAR racing and global motorsport culture,” said Marks. “I truly believe the Next Gen car represents an opportunity for NASCAR to enter the global professional motorsport conversation. “We now have a race vehicle with international technological relevance where world-class drivers from other disciplines can compete at NASCAR’s highest level without the steep learning curve that the previous generation cars required. Once again Trackhouse Racing is showing how it’s a 'disrupter' in the NASCAR Cup Series by creating a part-time third entry to provide international motorsport stars the chance to compete in NASCAR’s premier series. As for Trackhouse’s first driver to place in its Project 91 entry this year, I think it may be a bit of an obvious choice – IndyCar race-winner Pato O’Ward. Aside from O’Ward, and dipping into the big ‘What if?’ category, why not offer Formula 1 standout Lewis Hamilton his first opportunity to race in NASCAR? In the past, the seven-time world champion has mentioned a desire to one day run the Daytona 500, but a chance to compete on the road course at Watkins Glen may be very tempting. The move by Trackhouse Racing to open up a third entry to international racing stars is a brilliant one, and has me excited to see who they can grab. If they really want to go big, Formula 1 is where Trackhouse should look. Although an F1 star would draw the most publicity, IndyCar is much more realistic and closer to the NASCAR world. The Kiwi came Stateside for a new challenge, and has already found success in IndyCar with his victory at St. If you’re starting a new NASCAR team and want to look at options outside the usual pool of drivers, what might you be looking for? Some oval experience, proven ability at a high level and knowledge of the American motorsport scene would all be handy. The 2015 Le Mans winner started off in the tough battles of short oval racing against the sort of hard characters that feature in NASCAR and can look after himself on-track. Tandy is a known figure in American motorsport, having been a GT class winner in Porsche and Chevrolet machinery, most notably the 2014 Daytona 24 Hours, 2015 Petit Le Mans (which was also a win overall) and 2019 Sebring 12 Hours. The JTR team boss has worked both on his own cars and with top-level professional engineers, a crucial element for success in oval racing.
The very obvious choice from the pool of Supercars stars is Shane van Gisbergen. He’s been a factory McLaren driver and won the GT World Challenge Europe title in 2016. Van Gisbergen is also an uncompromising, aggressive racer who never gives an inch. Put him on a road course and he’d be a winner. Van Gisbergen in a proper NASCAR? Boy would it be a lot of fun to watch. It's very rare that European drivers get the opportunity to cross the Atlantic and go gallivanting around the United States' cast of ovals and road courses in NASCAR Cup machinery. Out of all the box-office drivers populating the international championships, I'd wager that Dan Ticktum would be the man to hold his own against the rough-and-ready style of racing in NASCAR, and he'd be a perfect pick for Trackhouse's #91 machine. What probably counts against Ticktum is his relative inexperience on ovals, but that would prove a minimal hurdle for the NIO 333 Formula E drive to overcome - and the rubbin's racin' mentality of NASCAR would likely be an aspect that he'd willingly roll his sleeves up for and get stuck in. It would be an experience he'd value and acquit himself well at; equally, he'd not be a pushover when dicing with some of the more experienced names in the championship. Clearly, Trackhouse should be aiming for a driver with proven all-rounder status. The Swede has shown that he’s a quick learner by winning the inaugural Extreme E title in electric SUVs last year, and also has plenty of circuit racing titles to his name. Car control naturally won’t be a problem for Kristoffersson, who won 11 of 12 rounds on his way to the 2018 WRX crown, and he wouldn’t find the rough-and-tumble of NASCAR a shock given the importance of earning track position in the short, sharp RX bouts. His fellow Swede and renowned all-rounder Mathias Ekstrom didn’t disgrace himself at all when he made two outings for the Red Bull team in 2010 at Sonoma and Richmond. If Trackhouse Racing wishes to cast its net outside of circuit racing and into the rallying arena, then there are several candidates that could be worth considering. Nine-time world champion Loeb has already proved himself as a versatile driver and at 48-years-old, the Frenchman has proven he’s lost none of his speed, having won the Monte Carlo Rally and the Race of Champions already this year.
Le Maestro has also enjoyed success in circuit racing, finishing second outright at the 2006 Le Mans 24 Hours for Pescarolo. Despite his age, Loeb's appetite for motorsport has not diminished one bit. Chip Ganassi Racing’s six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon and reigning IndyCar champion Alex Palou have been invaluable to Jimmie Johnson as the seven-time NASCAR Cup champion embraced the conversion from stock cars to open-wheel cars. Other IndyCar champions who have driven well in tin-tops are Will Power and Sebastien Bourdais, when they raced Supercars in 2011 at Surfers Paradise, and both drivers are old enough to have raced plenty of cars with stick shifts. Finally, a shout out for Felix Rosenqvist, who has won races in all but one series he’s ever tried – and there’s a great many of them. Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, 1st position, sprays the victory Champagne I love a crossover project, so kudos to Trackhouse for its global driver initiative. But why not aim high? Lewis Hamilton has tested a NASCAR Cup car for Tony Stewart – his ambitions outside of F1 have always been American-leaning, where his profile is higher than ever. Jacques Villeneuve did well in this year’s Daytona 500, and while Juan Pablo Montoya hated the grind of NASCAR, he loves racing these cars at their limit. Although NASCAR is the most American of motorsports, Jim France is at its helm. At 35 years of age, ex-Formula 1 driver Kobayashi remains keen on sampling as many different forms of motorsport as he can. As part of his IMSA deal with the Action Express Racing Cadillac team, Kobayashi has been sharing a car with no lesser legend of NASCAR that Jimmie Johnson, something that will have no doubt deepened his fascination with stock car racing even further. While the Japanese driver piloting anything other than a Toyota might appear to be a no-go, consider that he has been allowed to drive a GM car in IMSA even where another Toyota brand (Lexus) competes, and thanks to his close personal relationship with the auto giant’s bosses, he was even allowed to skip a Super Formula race last year in favor of racing in the Sebring 12 Hours. Ross Chastain, TrackHouse Racing, Advent Health Chevrolet Camaro and Daniel Suarez, TrackHouse Racing, Tootsies Orchid Lounge Chevrolet Camaro
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