By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
SONOMA, California — The era of “road ringers” are a thing of the past according to Justin Marks, who will be piloting the No. 15 Sufferfest Beer Company Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.
“The ‘road course ringer’ is not really a thing anymore because every point and every race in the Cup Series are so important for these guys running for the championship that they spent a lot of time on the road course program,” Marks told Motorsports Tribune. “It used to be kind of be like a throwaway and sort of just survive, and focusing on other tracks. It’s so competitive in the championship chase that’s always just so close, that they’ve got to be good everywhere, and that means the road courses too.”
Marks added that simulators have enhanced the driver’s growth on getting around the left and right turns, that it has made a different challenge for drivers like him. However, going into the weekend, he feels that he has an advantage than others because of his comfort zone on running road courses.
“They’re building these special cars. A lot of these guys are getting some time in away from the the NASCAR track and get some experience. Simulators played a huge part of it, and a lot of guys are spending time at the sim. Gearing and setup in line, and all that stuff dialed in properly. Plus on top of it, they’re some of the best race car drivers in the world, and they’re just figuring out how to get around the track.
“It’s definitely just as a challenging, and competitive than any other race for someone like me, but I can kind of be a little bit ahead of the curve because it’s a little more natural for me personally to be on a road course than on an oval.”
Among the few road racing specialists left on the tour, it’ll be Marks’ first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start since the season-opening Daytona 500 Feb. 18, where he brought the Rick Ware Racing machine home in 12th, both career-highs.
“Daytona certainly came together like we planned on coming together,” Marks on his Daytona 500 performance. “There’s a lot of guys in that race that have stuff at stake and we don’t, like championship points and stage victories.
“There’s a lot of hard racing in that race early that we didn’t need to be a part of, and so our plan was to have a conservative race until we got down to the end and survive, which we did. We fell a lap down, which was sort of unfortunate that we weren’t able to get back, but still there was enough craziness at the end, and we were able to take advantage.”
Marks added that the entire plan for the 500-mile classic was taking advantage of other driver’s misfortunes that’s defined Daytona this decade.
“That was our plan all along,” said Marks. “For a small team to just have a smart race, and being able to deliver at the end. The plans came together perfect.”
Fast forward to June, Marks is now driving for Premium Motorsports as part of a two-race deal, which later includes the “Roval” at Charlotte Motor Speedway later this Fall.
After one practice session, Marks was 34th quickest, 2.737 seconds slower than the fastest man in practice, Clint Bowyer.
“This place is so important to get forward drive and get the power down. These cars have so much horsepower in such a slow track, it’s really hard to get the power down, so that’s what we’re struggling with. I think everybody struggled a little bit,” Marks on opening practice. “Good news is that we’ve made some good changes to it, and know what direction we need to go in for the second practice, so we’ll just stick with our plan.”
Outside of stock car racing, Marks has kept himself very busy by competing in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship full-time for the Meyer Shank Racing’s Acura NSX program.
Not only it has kept Marks motivated this year, he’s also an avid mountain climber with goals of one day, when time allows, to climb Mount Everest.
“That’s definitely keeping me really busy. 12 races, a bunch of tests. It has been a good season, and then just trying to do some climbing when I can.” said Marks. “I’ve been dreaming of climbing Mount Everest, and so I need to be in the mountains when I can get away. I did a little bit of climbing for a couple of days last week.
“It’s kind of a fun goal, so there’s not really time pressure on myself from a timeline standpoint, but I’ve been super busy with racing this year that I’m trying to get some time on the mountains. It’s just a nice contrast to the world of the garage area.”
Since he was a young kid, Marks has been captivated about the outdoors, and finds excitement on traveling places people wouldn’t take the time of exploring.
“Just going places where people rarely go is exciting to me,” said Marks. “Pushing myself outside of my comfort zone is where I feel most alive. Some of that is in racing, and some of that is hanging off the side of the mountain. There’s less and less in this world that is truly wild, and I like to spend as much time as I can in what we have left, and being able to share that with my kids.”