After nearly 65 years, the NASCAR Cup Series returns to Road America

Getty Images ELKHART LAKE, WISCONSIN – JULY 03: Bubba Wallace, driver of the #23 Dr. Pepper Toyota, drives during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Jockey Made in America 250 Presented by Kwik Trip at Road America on July 03, 2021 in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/23XI Racing via Getty Images)

For the first time in nearly 65 years, the NASCAR Cup Series will return to Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin to compete on the world famous Road America this Sunday, July 4 at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. The Jockey Made in America 250 Presented by Kwik Trip race marks just the second time in series history that Road America has hosted a Cup event.

In the early 1950’s, sports car races were being run on the streets in and around Elkhart Lake, but the state legislature banned racing on the public roads soon after. A man named Clif Tufte organized a group of local citizens and leaders of the Chicago Region of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA). This group developed plans and sold stock to build a permanent racecourse. The overall vision of Road America grew out of the dreams of Tufte, a highway engineer, who chose 525 acres of Wisconsin farmland outside the Village of Elkhart Lake for the track. Ground broke for Road America in April of 1955 and the track’s first SCCA national race weekend was held later that same year (September 10, 1955).  

At 4.048-miles in length, with 14 turns, the track is virtually the same today as it was when it was first laid out. The natural topography of the glacial Kettle Moraine area was utilized for the track, sweeping around rolling hills and plunging through ravines making it one of the most challenging tracks in the world.

The first, and up until this weekend, the only, NASCAR Cup Series race at Road America was on August 12, 1956. An estimated crowd of 10,000 braved terrible weather to watch the event. And in an unusual ruling, NASCAR limited the cars to 10 gallons of fuel at start the race. 

The August 12, 1956, race was won by NASCAR Hall of Famer Tim Flock driving a Mercury for car owner Bill Stroppe. Flock led 17 laps of the 63-lap event, making just two pit stops en route to his win; his fourth victory of the 1956 season. Flock won with an average speed of 73.858 mph and did it in 3 hours, 29 minutes, and 50 seconds. He won the race by a 17 second margin of victory over second place. Bill Stroppe’s cars actually finished 1-2 in the race with Flock winning and his teammate Billy Myers finishing second.  

Road America will be the fourth of seven road courses on the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series schedule. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell won the first road course race of the season at the Daytona Road Course, followed by Hendrick Motorsport’s driver and 2020 series champion Chase Elliott won at Circuit of The Americas and then Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson won at Sonoma Raceway.

Previous experience at Road America could be advantageous

For drivers and teams when it comes to approaching how to prepare for the debut of a track on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule, any previous experience or knowledge of the facility can be advantageous to the process. With this weekend’s venue, Road America, brand new to the series, drivers with experience at the 4.048-mile course in the NASCAR Xfinity Series might have a slight upper hand.

The NASCAR Xfinity Series has competed 11 times at Road America (2010-Present) and 28 of the 40 drivers entered in this weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series race have competed in the Xfinity Series at Road America, led by 2021 Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell, Ross Chastain and Josh Bilicki with five Xfinity Series Road America starts each.

Road America is one of eight tracks this season that have been chosen to hold practice and qualifying. The lone practice for the weekend is scheduled for Saturday at 12:35 p.m. ET – 1:25 p.m. and the qualifying session will be on Sunday prior to the race at 11:05 a.m. ET. Two of the 40 NASCAR Cup Series drivers entered this weekend have won at least one pole in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at Road America – AJ Allmendinger (two poles: 2013, 2019) and Michael McDowell (one pole: 2011). 

The 11 NASCAR Xfinity Series races at Road America have produced 11 different winners. Four of the 40 NASCAR Cup Series drivers entered this weekend at Road America have won in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at the 4.048-mile road course – Austin Cindric (2020), Christopher Bell (2019), Michael McDowell (2016) and AJ Allmendinger (2013).

Clinch Scenarios: Just seven races left to make the Playoffs

The race to the Playoffs is on and time is running short for drivers to clinch their spot in the postseason. A win gets you in, but drivers must still clinch their spot on points by accumulating enough points that even with a win they do not fall out of the top 30 and become ineligible for the Playoffs. 

Eleven drivers have won already and earned their spot in the Playoffs. Four of the 11 winning drivers have already clinched their spot in the postseason on points as well. 

Already Clinched

The following 4 drivers have clinched a spot in the 16-driver postseason field – Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Alex Bowman.

Can clinch via win

The following drivers could clinch on a win this weekend alone – William Byron, Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski.

The following drivers could clinch with a win and clinching a Top 30 position – Christopher Bell: Could only clinch with help; Michael McDowell: Could only clinch with help.

Denny Hamlin is the only driver that can clinch with a win and enough points to ensure he will not be left out of the Playoffs due to not all winning drivers having a slot available – Hamlin: Could clinch with 49 points. 

NASCAR Hall of Famer Tim Flock, Road America’s lone Cup winner

When looking back at the one NASCAR Cup Series race held at Road America in 1956, one name rises above the rest – the winner – NASCAR Hall of Famer Tim Flock. Flock was a two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, and he was one of the sport’s first dominant drivers.

In 187 starts, Tim Flock had 39 victories, a total that still ranks 18th on the all-time wins list.

Tim Flock won his first series title in 1952 while driving Ted Chester’s Hudson Hornet, and his second in 1955 driving Carl Kiekhaefer’s Chrysler. Flock dominated the 1955 season, posting 18 wins, 32 top fives and 18 poles in 39 races. 

Flock’s 18 wins stood as a single-season victory record until Richard Petty surpassed it with 27 wins in 1967. His 18-win 1955 season, still to this day, ranks third-most in single season Cup win totals, tied with Richard Petty’s 1970 season.  

In addition, Flock won NASCAR’s only sports car race, in 1955, driving a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL.

The entire Flock family raced at times during NASCAR’s formative years. In 1949, brothers Bob and Fonty and sister Ethel joined Tim to become the only four siblings to drive in the same NASCAR premier series race.

Flock, who died on March 31, 1998, was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers that same year. He was enshrined in the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2014.

NASCAR’s Most Popular is up for ESPN’s Best Driver ESPY

Last season’s NASCAR Cup Series champion, Chase Elliott, has been nominated for the ESPN ESPY, “Best Driver”, for the first time in his six-year Cup series career.

Elliott, who was voted the NMPA’s Most Popular Driver for the third consecutive time this past season, drives the No. 9 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.

Elliott finished the 2020 season with five wins, 15 top-five finishes and 22 top 10s. Finishing 96% of his laps attempted in 36 starts, the 25-year-old series champion could join the likes of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson as NASCAR drivers who have taken home the hardware during the annual ESPY Award show.

The 29th edition of the ESPY Awards will take place this year on Saturday, July 10th at 8 pm ET. Fans can cast their votes for their favorite driver here, up until Friday July 9th at 8 pm ET.

Looking ahead to this weekend at Road America, Elliott has made two NASCAR Xfinity Series career starts at the track posting fourth-place finishes in both outings.

NASCAR Cup Series, Etc.

Pulling Double Duty at Road America – AJ Allmendinger, Austin Cindric, Josh Bilicki, Justin Haley, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch will all be competing in both the NASCAR Xfinity Series race on Saturday, July 3, and the NASCAR Cup Series race on July 4 at Road America.

Hendrick Motorsports winning pace – Hendrick Motorsports is at the top of their game this season already winning nine races in the first 19 events of the 2021 season. Hendrick Motorsports in 2007 set the Modern Era record for the most wins by an organization in a single season with 18 victories, until it was surpassed in 2019 when Joe Gibbs Racing scored 19 Cup victories in a single season.

What is interesting is that at this point in the 2007 season (19 races completed), Hendrick Motorsports had produced nine wins just like this year heading into to the 20th race on the schedule at Road America. 

Hendrick Motorsports is coming off a streak of six consecutive NASCAR Cup Series wins – a record in the Modern Era that the organization has accomplished twice (2007, 2021).  

With 17 races left in the 2021 season and so many similarities to the 2007 season, it will be fascinating to see if the Hendrick camp can make a run at the Joe Gibbs Racing single season wins record. 

SportsCar stars Tilley, Eversley are entered this weekend – Two drivers that cut their teeth in IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Kyle Tilley and Ryan Eversley will be attempting to make the NASCAR Cup Series race this weekend at Road America.

This will be Kyle Tilley’s second start in the series this weekend and he will be piloting the No 78 Live Fast Motorsports Ford with crew chief Frank Kerr. Tilley made his series debut earlier this season at Circuit of the America’s for Live Fast Motorsports, starting 39th and finishing 31st. Tilley is no stranger to Road America, he has one IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship start at the track where he started fourth and finished third in the ORECA LMP2 07 for Era Motorsports last season. 

Ryan Eversley on the other hand will be attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series career debut at Road America this weekend driving the No. 53 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet. It will also be Eversley’s career track debut at Road America.