By David Morgan, Associate Editor
Last season, the NASCAR Cup Series made its return to Road America, a 14-turn, 4.048-mile road course weaving through the Wisconsin countryside and once again will be the destination for Fourth of July weekend with Sunday’s running of the Kwik Trip 250.
As the third of six road course races on the 2022 schedule, the 62-lap event will be yet another test for the Next Gen car and could provide a chance for a driver not yet locked into the Playoffs to punch their ticket with just nine races remaining in the regular season.
Thus far, Trackhouse Racing has been the king on the road courses with Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez winning at Circuit of the Americas and Sonoma, respectively. Will the new kid on the block continue to reign supreme on the road or will it be someone else’s turn to capture the checkered flag on Sunday?
Drivers and teams will have 50-minutes of practice on Saturday to get their cars dialed in before rolling right into qualifying to set the field for Sunday’s main event.
By the Numbers
What: Kwik Trip 250 Presented by Jockey Made in America, NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 18 of 36
Where: Road America – Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin (First race: 1956)
TV/Radio: USA Network, 3:00 pm ET / MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90
Track Size: 14-turn, 4.048-mile road course
Race Length: 62 laps, 250 miles
Stage Lengths: Stage 1 and 2 – 15 laps each/Final stage – 32 laps
2021 Race Winner: Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet (Started 34th, 24 laps led)
Track Qualifying Record: William Byron – Two minutes, 12.049 seconds, 110.359 mph
Top-10 Highest Driver Ratings at Road America:
- Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 139.0
- Kyle Busch – No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 122.5
- Tyler Reddick – No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet – 106.2
- Christopher Bell – No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 104.4
- Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 103.4
- Kurt Busch – No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota – 101.8
- Ross Chastain – No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet – 100.2
- Kyle Larson – No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 95.3
- Martin Truex Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 91.9
- Chase Briscoe – No. 14 Stewart Haas Racing Ford – 88.7
From the Driver’s Seat
“First of all, this is my favorite racetrack in all the world,” said Joey Hand. “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.
“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. There are probably two other dirty ones to make six for the whole lap, but I just think it’s going to 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 going to see a lot of passing, personally.
“As far as the Next Gen car versus the Gen 6 car last year, the brakes are bigger. They stay a little cooler, I think. I think they’re going to be optimum. We’re all going to find out. It’s going to 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 going to show up right here in this one.
“What I’ve learned the first two races is these cars are very strong, actually. Side-to-side contact and a little bit of rubbing is not really a problem at all. 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 going to be the number as far as what’s the possibility. You’re not going to have these big three-wide situations where you’re the guy in the middle getting crunched up or something like that, but I think two-wide is going to happen.
“The reason I say that is because in sports cars let’s just say when I go down to turn five in the brake zone and I do a pass and I’m inside somebody, pretty much the guy on the inside, that guy on the outside is going to concede because you just don’t run two-wide. It’s just not the way it works.
“Quickly did I gather that in Cup we run two and three and four-wide no matter what the situation, so you don’t just have the corner when you get down inside somebody in turn five. They’re going to hold it around up to six and might hold it around six and then hold it all the way to the inside of seven and then you’re in trouble again. The short answer is I think it’s going to produce good racing.”
Last Time at Road America
Despite starting deep in the field in the 2021 race at Road America, Chase Elliott retained his crown as the King of the Road when it was all said and done, winning decisively over his competition by the time the checkered flag flew.
A glitchy qualifying session left Elliott 34th out of 40 starters when the race began, but climbed into the top-10 by the end of Stage 1. Sacrificing track position to pit in the waning laps of Stage 2, Elliott found himself on the front row for the final stage.
With 16 laps to go, Elliott passed Kyle Busch in Turn 12 and set sail, crossing the line 5.705 seconds ahead of Christopher Bell.
“Just really, really proud of our team,” Elliott said. “Yeah, we really kind of struggled yesterday and never got into a good rhythm I didn’t feel like on my end. And I thought we could be a little better with the car. Made a lot of changes overnight. Kind of started the day. I thought that I liked it – I thought. But I just still wasn’t in a good rhythm. About halfway I felt like I started to kind of put things together, start minimizing some mistakes I’d been making all weekend, then started finding some pace.
“So, yeah, after that it got fun. I was able to get a flow going, get in rhythm. Then from there we were able to get on — we kind of got caught up from our bad starting spot, got on the same strategy as the leaders. From there, we were able to go to work. Had things going good enough to keep up and get by those guys.”
Kyle Busch faded to third at the finish just ahead of older brother Kurt, with Denny Hamlin rounding out the top-five.
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Saturday, July 2
- NASCAR Cup Series Practice (11:35 am to 12:25 pm – USA Network (Coverage starts at Noon)
- NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying (12:25 pm – Two rounds/Multi-car qualifying – USA Network)
Sunday, July 3
- Kwik Trip 250 at Road America (3:00 pm – 62 laps, 250 miles – USA Network)