Of the 37 drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series race at Road America, no one might be more excited than Joey Hand.
Hand is back behind the wheel of the Rick Ware Racing No. 15 Ford Mustang for his third start of the season. A road course ace, Hand isn’t just happy to be in the field but about running at his favorite racetrack “in all the world.”
Sunday (3 p.m. ET, USA) will be the first time Hand runs a Cup Series car at Road America.
“I’ve been fortunate to race around the world in different cars and different tracks, and this is number one for me,” Hand said. “People ask me all the time, what’s your favorite track? Road America. Easy. It’s the best lap in racing.”
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 result.
Hand finished 20th in his most recent start at Sonoma Raceway. Not only did he complete all the laps, but Hand impressed by driving the car inside the top 15 for much of the afternoon.
The time off for Hand 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 track and mix things up with Cup Series regulars — something he wouldn’t mind doing on a more consistent basis.
“Let’s put it this way: I probably was made for NASCAR,” Hand said. “I’m probably just here a little bit too late. 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. When I was a kid, people came to the fence because they put on a show. 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. NASCAR has done a good job of being able to make these [cars] 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. I think for me, I just need to get a 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.
“I’m learning pretty quickly on that. Would I go run an oval? Sure. Like I tell people, ‘Yeah, I’m just the right amount of brave and dumb to do whatever you want me to do.’”
It should not surprise that Hand has high expectations for his next start.
“It’s a track that I know really well,” he said of the Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin road course. “I’ve been racing this track since 2005, 2006, when I came to sports car racing. Actually, I raced here in Toyota Atlantic in 2001, so I’ve been coming for a long time. I was telling my guys I’ve won here a lot, and the races that I haven’t won have been second or broke from leading; so I’ve had a lot of success here with the groups I’ve been with, and anytime you have success at a racetrack it always ups your ‘like’ level. So, I like this one a lot, and therefore my expectations are pretty high.
“From what I’ve seen, at COTA, we had an issue in practice and didn’t get to qualify and started at the back. Sonoma, I just didn’t get up to speed quick enough, but we were about half a lap from getting in the top-10 shootout. We were really close to getting in and ended up qualifying 17th and ran pretty good. We caught a bad yellow that got us in the back again and worked our way back forward. So we probably have been better than we’ve looked the first couple of races, and I’m hoping that ‘better than we looked’ looks good at this one. That’s what I’m hoping for — that we look good.”