If there’s a driver in Sunday’s Kwik Trip 250 grid who’s amped up for racing at Road America, look no further than Joey Hand of Sacramento, California.
The renowned sports car racer likely circled July 3 on his calendar, which happens to be Race 18 of the NASCAR Cup Series schedule. Despite Hand’s home track being Sonoma Raceway, he loves the 4.048-mile, 14 turn road course in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.
“First of all, this is my favorite racetrack in all the world,” Hand said during a Ford Performance media availability. “I’ve been fortunate to race around the world in different cars and different tracks and this is number one for me. People ask me all the time, what’s your favorite track? Road America. Easy. It’s the best lap in racing.
“If you do any sim stuff, even on a sim lap it’s fun – a practice lap or race lap – everything is fun at Road America as far as doing laps. I think the track races really well, so I think compared to the tracks we’ve seen so far – COTA and Sonoma – COTA you had some passing zones, but you had these big messes on the start up in turn one and turn 11 where you’d go five to seven-wide and it just created this massive funnel. It tore a lot of stuff up throughout the race, including me, and then you get to Sonoma and you can’t pass hardly at all. It’s super low grip.”
When Hand considered some of the characteristics of Road America, he pointed out to the technical and practical aspects that may prove pivotal for a successful race day at the famed track.
“I think Road America, on the other hand, there’s at least four passing zones per lap – at least – like clean versions, let’s put it that way,” he observed. “There are probably two other dirty ones to make six for the whole lap, but I just think it’s gonna produce good racing. I mean, you get 90 degree corners leading onto long straightaways. You get big brake zones where you can out-brake somebody and I think you’re just gonna see a lot of passing, personally.”
Hand personally hopes for his observation to ring true after qualifying ninth, his highest starting position in a Cup race to date. Driving the No. 15 FordPro.com Ford Mustang fielded by Rick Ware Racing, it’s safe to say that he’s enjoying the Days of Thunder style of racing prevalent in NASCAR Cup Series competition.
“As far as the Next Gen car versus the Gen 6 car last year, the brakes are bigger,” he shared. “They stay a little cooler, I think. I think they’re gonna be optimum. We’re all gonna find out. It’s gonna be hard on brakes, this race, but I think it will be optimum for most of the race. You’ll be able to be pretty hard on them and I think the kind of the late braker is gonna show up right here in this one. What I’ve learned the first two races is these cars are very strong, actually.”
Moreover, Hand appreciates the Next Gen car’s ability to persevere through tenacious, hard racing where contact may occur with another driver. As opposed to his familiar setting in sports cars, he has confidence in his No. 15 Ford Mustang’s abilities to take on the dogfights on a road course like Road America.
“Side-to-side contact and a little bit of rubbing is not really a problem at all,” Hand said. “You can get in there and get down inside somebody and they can try and stop you from doing it, but there’s not a lot you can do about it. Also a nice thing about learning about NASCAR racing is it’s good and bad, depending on who you are and what the situation is, but you can run two-wide a lot and sometimes a lot of times you run three-wide, but at this track I think two-wide is gonna be the number as far as what’s the possibility.
“That’s the thing. You’ve seen that these cars will take a rub a lot better. They actually take big hits a lot better. I tell you what I learned at COTA is if you can help it, at COTA I had to start at the back so I was trying to get my way through. We had the pace to be running in the front, but you’ve got to go through a lot of people to get there, so obviously you don’t want to ever get tore up, but I really put some effort at Sonoma to keep my car clean throughout the first two stages so that I had a good car going to the last stage.”
Of course, Hand would love to win Sunday’s race, a moment that would be a feel good moment for the 43-year-old Californian. Similarly, the thought of racing full-time in Cup or NASCAR would be in Hand’s radar if the right opportunity is there for the respected racer.
“Talk to Ford,” he said with a bit of a laugh. “Let’s put it this way, I probably was made for NASCAR. I’m probably just here a little bit too late. Like all my laugh the elbows out thing is kind of my style, so when I dropped into this thing I’m like, yes, finally we’re doing what I do up here. Let’s go people. I like rubbing is racing. I like doing these passes down inside and having somebody hang on the outside. This is what I think racing is all about. When it’s all said and done, we are an entertainment sport.”
During an interesting time for NASCAR, Hand seems like the dynamic character that could be relatable to those who love the high performance, high speed thrills of sports car racing with some Top Gun dramatics and entertainment, factors prevalent in today’s stock car scene.
Needless to say, the lure is there for Hand as he recalled his earliest racing memories in terms of considering a possible venture into NASCAR.
“When I was a kid, people came to the fence because I put on a show,” Hand recalled. “That’s part of the reason why I’m here and that’s why people come to these races and watch on TV is because of the show. So, these cars – NASCAR has done a good job of being able to make these things where we can throw it down inside and out-brake somebody, but then not totally get it done and have them run around the outside and have this wheel-to-wheel racing. It’s right in my wheelhouse.”
Given more time in a Cup car, particularly at the high speed ovals like Atlanta or Charlotte, Hand would not rule out the prospects of fulfilling one of his bucket list dreams.
“I’ve got to tell you, I think, for me, I just need to get a little bit more comfortable with who I’m racing, knowing who I have to deal with a little more, who has a little more respect for me possibly, and who doesn’t,” he said. “I’m learning pretty quickly on that. Would I go run an oval? Sure. Like I tell people, they’re like, ‘Would you go do other races?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m just the right amount of brave and dumb to do whatever you want me to do.’”