Of the 37 drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series race at Road America, no one could be more excited than Joey Hand.
Hand is back behind the wheel of the No. 15 Rick Ware Racing Ford Mustang for his third start of the season. An ace of road courses, Hand is not only happy to be in the field, but also to race at his favorite race track “in all the world.”
Sunday (3 pm ET) will be the first time Hand has raced a Cup Series car at Road America.
“I’ve been lucky enough to race around the world in different cars and different tracks, and this is number one for me,” said Hand. “People ask me all the time, what’s your favorite song? America Highway. Easy. It’s the best lap in racing.”
The Circuit of the Americas, Hand’s first start in March, was more disappointing. Having run as high as 11th, suspension issues with the car relegated Hand to a 35th-place finish.
Hand finished 20th in his most recent start at Sonoma Raceway. Not only did he complete every lap, but Hand impressed by driving the car inside the top 15 for much of the afternoon.
Hand’s time off between races is much shorter from Sonoma to Road America, which will help his comfort level. Plus, he’s very familiar with Road America and is eager to get on his feet and mingle with the Cup Series regulars, something he wouldn’t mind doing more consistently.
“Let’s put it this way: I was probably made for NASCAR,” Hand said. “I’m probably here a little too late. The elbows out thing is kind of my style, so when I got into this, I was like, ‘Yeah, we’re finally doing what I’m doing here. Come on people!’ I like rubbing is running. I like to do these passes on the inside and have someone hanging on the outside. This is what I think racing is about.
“When all is said and done, we are an entertainment sport. When I was a kid, people would come to the fence because they were putting on a show. That’s part of the reason I’m here and that’s why people come to these races and watch them on TV, it’s because of the show. NASCAR has done a good job of being able to do these [cars] where we can throw it in and out slow someone down, but then not quite do it and have them run around the outside and have this wheel-to-wheel race. It’s right in my wheelhouse. I think for me, I just need to feel a little more comfortable with who I’m competing with, knowing who I have to deal with a little more, who has a little more respect for me possibly and who doesn’t.
“I’m learning pretty quickly about that. Would you go running an oval? Of course. Like I tell people, ‘Yeah, I’m just the right amount of brave and dumb to do what you want me to do.
It should come as no surprise that Hand has high expectations for his next start.
“It’s a track I know very well,” he said of the Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, road course. “I’ve been racing this track since 2005, 2006, when I got into sports car racing. I actually raced here with Toyota Atlantic in 2001, so I’ve been coming for a long time. I told my guys that I have won many times here, and the races that I have not won have been second or broken for leading; so I’ve had a lot of success here with the groups I’ve been in, and every time you’re successful on a race track it always raises your ‘like’ level. So, I really like this one, and therefore my expectations are quite high.
“From what I’ve seen, in COTA, we had a problem in practice and we didn’t manage to qualify and we started from the back. Sonoma, I just didn’t catch up fast enough, but we were half a lap away from being in the top 10. We were very close to getting in and ended up qualifying 17th and ran pretty well. We caught a bad yellow that put us on the back again and we worked our way forward. So we’ve probably been better than we looked in the first couple of races, and I hope ‘better than we looked’ looks good in this one. That’s what I hope, that we look good.”