On the Track with Josh Bilicki (August 2017)

Josh Bilicki shares his thoughts on his recent NASCAR starts in this monthly driver's blog!

Josh Bilicki shares his thoughts on his recent NASCAR starts in this monthly driver’s blog!

Each month, NASCAR Xfinity Series competitor Josh Bilicki will provide his insights on his recent racing efforts. In addition, the Menomonee Falls, WI native will answer some of NASCAR’s quirkier vocabulary.

This month, Bilicki shares his thoughts on his first NASCAR oval starts at Michigan International Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway. How do these compare to the road courses? Without further ado, it’s time to get this month’s edition of “On the Track with Josh Bilicki” underway!

Rob Tiongson :  Since Michigan, you’ve been on track a bit.  You raced the SCCA Sprints at Road America. Then, you competed in your first Cup start at Sonoma and your first Cup oval start at Loudon.  What’s it been like to transition from the familiar road courses to oval tracks like Michigan and Loudon?

Josh Bilicki :  Yes, it’s certainly been a very busy couple of months!  I really enjoy learning how to drive ovals.  I believe it takes a different type of skill. At the same time, a lot of the skill I have learned while racing on road courses transfers to oval racing.  Having almost no circle track experience made it tough, for sure.

Michigan is a fast, two-mile circuit, where speed in the NASCAR Xfinity Series is approaching 200 mph.  That’s almost faster than the Cup Series at Daytona!  At Michigan, you use no brakes and you never come completely out of the throttle, otherwise the rear end un-locks and makes the car upset on entry.  It took me several laps to learn and get comfortable driving like this, but once I got the hang of it, I had an absolute blast!

Loudon, NH is a tight one-mile track that drives more like a track you’d race a late model on, which I’ve never done. As you said, this was my first Cup start on an oval, which made it even more difficult.  We had very little laps in practice, but I quickly picked up the pace during the race. We had some mechanical issues with the car that set us back, but overall it was a great learning experience.  The track was very flat, so it drove more like a road course than any other oval I’ve been on.

One thing I find myself struggling with on each oval is using all of the track and driving the car all the way up to the wall.  This is something that racing late models would have helped with!

Road courses typically don’t have walls right on the edge of the track. Instead, they have grass and sand traps to help save the car if you do go off track.  But after 300 laps at New Hampshire in a Cup car, I certainly feel a lot more comfortable!

RT :  You recently competed in your first of three races this month with the B.J. McLeod effort. Firstly, how’d the opportunity come up? What’s some of your takeaways from Watkins Glen that you look to apply at Mid-Ohio and Road America?

By and large, Josh Bilicki appreciates his opportunity this month. (Photo Credit: Josh Bilicki Racing)

By and large, Josh Bilicki appreciates his opportunity this month. (Photo Credit: Josh Bilicki Racing)

JB :  Yep, we just finished racing the NASCAR Xfinity Series at Watkins Glen.  Coming from road course racing, I knew that these three road courses are going to be my best opportunity to shine in the series and get my foot more in the door for more oval races.

We got in touch with BJ McLeod. Once he found out I was looking for an opportunity at all three road courses, he opened the door for me to drive his No. 8 Camaro.

I have great sponsors for all three.  Prevagen, a memory-loss supplement, came on board as a primary sponsor for Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio, as well as an associate sponsor for Road America.  They were my primary sponsor for New Hampshire in the Cup Series, so it’s great to have a continued relationship with them.

BrookLink.org, a Christian ministry, came onboard as an associate sponsor for all three.  Xtreme Xperience, a company that I work for part time, owns a fleet of supercars and allows customers to drive them on race tracks across the country.  They will be my primary sponsor for Road America.

And finally, Best Equipment Rentals will be an associate sponsor for Road America.  Without them, I certainly would not be racing these road courses.

Watkins Glen was a learning experience, as always.  We started 28th and worked into the top-twenty.  We ran as high as 16th, but unfortunately I made several mistakes on pit-road and caused us to get several drive through penalties.

I hate it for the team, but I will learn from this weekend and be sure to correct my mistakes going forward. I believe we have a car that is capable of a top ten at both Mid-Ohio and Road America, so I need to get my head straight and minimize all mistakes.

RT :  Compared to other racing series that you’ve competed in, NASCAR has stages to break up their races.  From your vantage point, how has that been like for you as a driver?  Do you prefer the traditional flag to flag format or the NASCAR format?

Personally, I like the stages.  It allows drivers like myself to stay on the lead lap, as well as opens up opportunities to gain more points throughout the race.  I am looking forward to seeing how the stages play out in these next two races.

RT :  NASCAR recently updated their rules limiting the number of starts for Cup drivers competing in Xfinity and Truck Series races next year.  As a relatively new racer in NASCAR, was a happy medium reached to help with the identity of the Xfinity Series? Could more have been done to balance the level of competition for regulars in this division?

All things considered, Bilicki understands the balance of Cup drivers competing in Xfinity Series races. (Photo Credit: Josh Bilicki Racing)

All things considered, Bilicki understands the balance of Cup drivers competing in Xfinity Series races. (Photo Credit: Josh Bilicki Racing)

JB :  I enjoy being on track with the Cup drivers in the Xfinity Series because I feel like we can learn from them. At the same time, I am happy that they have updated the rules.  I think that you will find NASCAR Xfinity Series full time drivers putting on a better show for the fans, like Ryan Preece did at Iowa!  Also, I believe you will find teams with a lower budget competing for better results.

RT :  Mid-Ohio and Road America are unique, challenging, and technical road courses in any kind of racecar.  For the fans reading this piece, walk us through these venues and the keys to getting around them.

JB :  Mid-Ohio and Road America are both very challenging in their own ways.  Mid-Ohio is a relatively short lap in the road course racing world.  The track has many low-speed corners with lots of elevation.  You’re going to find oval drivers who don’t have much experience on road courses struggle here.

Road America is one of the longest road courses in the country, with several long straights with big braking points at the end of them.  You’ll find drivers with little road course experience struggle here as well.  To finish well at both tracks, a driver will have to stay consistent and smooth throughout the whole race.

RT :  We often hear the term “heel and toe” at road course races. What does this mean and is it a technique that you’ve adapted to in a stock car and sports car?

JB :  “Heel and Toeing” is a unique, difficult task, but it must be done while downshifting.  You basically take your right foot, rotate it counter-clockwise about 45 degrees, put your toes on the brake pedal, and your heel on the throttle pedal.  While braking and downshifting, you must blip the throttle pedal to get the RPMs of the engine up so you don’t upset the car.

However, nowadays, the clutch pedal is not used while upshifting or downshifting, which allows us drivers to left foot brake.  You must still blip the throttle while downshifting, but it makes it much easier to keep a constant brake pressure.  After all, these cars require so much force on the brake pedal that you want as much pressure as possible!

RT :  You’ve competed in a Cup and Xfinity car at various points this year.  Visually, they’re uniquely distinct vehicles but in terms of the drivability, what’s the main differences between the two cars?

JB :  First thing I noticed while jumping into the Cup car for the first time is that the car is much more responsive. Because it is fuel injected, the throttle response is much better than the Xfinity car.  It also rotates through the corner much nicer.

Essentially, the Cup car just handles much better than the Xfinity car.  However, it has much more power than the Xfinity car, which can make it hard to find traction while driving off the corner.

RT :  Racing in the rain is an element that competitors contend with at a street circuit or road course.  If Mother Nature decides to be tricky at Mid-Ohio and Road America, would you say it’s a challenge you’d welcome or roll with, should it happen?

Ultimately, Josh Bilicki looks forward to racing this month, rain or shine! (Photo Credit: Josh Bilicki Racing)

Ultimately, Josh Bilicki looks forward to racing this month, rain or shine! (Photo Credit: Josh Bilicki Racing)

JB :  Personally, I wouldn’t mind if it rains.  I hear these cars are hard to see out of when it rains. However, most of the current NASCAR Xfinity drivers haven’t raced in the rain.  It’s a big challenge, especially when you have 650 hp underneath you.

I have driven both tracks while in a heavy rain, so I think we would do really well.  However, I would like to see how we stack up to the competition in the dry.  Let’s just say that I’ll be happy either way!

Author’s Notes :  Thanks again to Josh Bilicki for taking the time for his new, monthly blog on The Podium Finish!  Be sure to check out TPF for the September edition of “On the Track With Josh Bilicki!” Furthermore, if you’d like to learn more about Josh, “Follow” him on Twitter, “Like” his Facebook page, and “Visit” his official website!

Rob Tiongson

Rob Tiongson is a 30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught his eyes.

From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat.

Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Communications at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's just as happy to be a Texan.

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