The NASCAR Nationwide Series heads to Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., this weekend for its first road course race of the year — Saturday’s Johnsonville Sausage 200. Typically, when the circuit goes road course racing, several teams opt to put “road course” ringers in their cars. This year’s race at Road America is no exception. Here’s a rundown of some of the road course specialists being called on by various team’s for Saturday’s race:
Billy Johnson: Billy Johnson will be behind the wheel of Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 16 Ford. It’ll be his first Nationwide start of the season. In last year’s Road America race, Johnson started fourth but fell out of the race after mechanical failure on lap 25. Johnson competed in the Grand-Am Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and, along with co-driver Jack Roush Jr., took a Grand Sport class win. He’ll make an Nationwide Series oval track start later this season at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
A.J. Allmendinger: The Road America Race will be A.J. Allmendinger’s first Nationwide Series race in five years. He’ll be behind the wheel of the No. 22 Penske Racing Ford normally driven by Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski. Allmendiner last race in the series was a 2008 event at Phoenix International Raceway. He finished 12th in that race. In recent years, Allmendinger’s been primarily known as a NASCAR racer with several years of Sprint Cup Series racing under his belt. But he can be viewed as somewhat of a NASCAR road course specialist, too, as his stats include eight top-15 finishes in nine Sprint Cup Series races. And it just so happens that Road America was the site of his last open wheel racing victory in 2006.
“I am very excited to be back behind the wheel of a NNS car and for none other than Roger Penske,” Allmendinger said. “It’s been a few years since I’ve been in the series, and I’m eager to return as the field of competition is the best it’s ever been.”
Owen Kelly: Owen Kelly is slated to drive the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. He’ll also be in the car at Mid-Ohio later this season. Kelly is an Australian V8 Supercar driver and also has experience in Targa Road Rally and NASCAR Grand Am Rolex Sports Cars. He practiced the No. 54 car for Kyle Busch at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal. In 2011, he practiced the car Marcos Ambrose drove to victory lane at Road America. Kelly raced a Nationwide car at Road America, himself, in 2010 and posted a fifth-place finish for Baker Curb Racing.
“I had a pretty good race there before,” Kelly said. “Road America is a great race track, one of the coolest road courses in America, probably in the world. It’s a cool place to race; there’s a lot of history there. First time there I had not driven a Nationwide car, seen the track, knew the tires. Obviously, this time, I’ll be much better prepared than before and to go there with the best team is huge for me.”
Derek White: Derek White will drive the No. 24 SR2 Motorsports Toyota. It’ll be his fifth-career Nationwide start, with all four of his previous starts coming with SR2 in 2012. His best finish was 18th at the road course, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal. His other NASCAR experience includes three starts in the Camping World Truck Series and 30 in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series. He was the 2010 Canadian Tire Series Rookie of the Year.
“It is great to have Derek back with our SR2 team,” SR2 Motorsports owner Jason Sciavicco said. “We had some great races together last year, and everyone expects another solid performance this weekend at Road America. We should have had a top-10 finish at the Montreal road course event last year, but some bad luck on the last lap ruined that. Road America is a very exciting race, and Derek is a strong road roacer, so we feel a fun weekend is ahead of us.”
Additional road course specialists expected to race on Saturday include: Johnny O’Connell (No. 5 JR Motorsports Chevrolet), Stanton Barrett (No. 23 Robert Richardson-owned Chevrolet), and Max Papis (No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet).
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