Australian Owen Kelly will make his NASCAR debut when he races for Baker Curb Racing in the Bucyrus 200 at the Road America road course in Elkhart Lake, Wis. on June 17-19.
Kelly will make his first NASCAR start in the second-tier Nationwide Series at the impressive Road America circuit, a fast and undulating track regarded at the North American equivalent of Australia’s Mount Panorama circuit in the town of Bathurst, New South Wales.
The 33-year-old will drive the No. 27 Ford Fusion of Baker Curb Racing in the 50-lap event, with Sprint Cup star Greg Biffle having driven the car in 10 of the 13 Nationwide Series race held so far this season.
Kelly becomes the ninth Australian to race in a NASCAR championship division and follows in the footsteps of fellow Tasmanian Marcos Ambrose, who has used his similar background in karting, Formula Ford and V8 Supercars to great effect to claim two Nationwide Series wins at the Watkins Glen road course since moving to NASCAR in 2006.
Kelly has raced for Dale Earnhardt Jr’s JR Motorsports late model team in both 2008 and 2009, collecting race victories as he learned oval track racing after growing up in Australia on road course circuits.
Originally from the town of Devonport in Tasmania, Kelly will also race V8 Supercars later this year for Jack Daniel’s Racing in the endurance events at the Phillip Island and Bathurst circuits, where the longer races require two drivers per car.
Kelly has also raced in the second-tier Fujitsu V8 Supercar Series earlier this year, where he is third on the All-Time Race Wins list with 13 victories.
The Nationwide Series entry list for Road America will be a star-studded line-up, with former Formula One World Champion and Indianapolis 500 winner Jacques Villeneuve among the drivers that Kelly will be attempting to beat.
Other noted drivers competing in the race are NASCAR road course experts Boris Said and Ron Fellows, current Nationwide Series points leader Brad Keselowski and former series champion Carl Edwards.
The Road America race was added to 2010 NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule in December last year as a result of the cancellation of the race at the Milwaukee Mile, also in Wisconsin. This will be the first NASCAR championship division event at the classic Elkhart Lake circuit since 1956.
The Road America circuit is well known for US open-wheel competition with drivers such as Mario and Michael Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi, Villenueve, Alex Zanardi, Paul Tracy and Dario Franchitti all former winners at Road America.
Q&A with Australia’s Newest NASCAR driver Owen Kelly:
QUESTION: How did this deal come about?
OWEN KELLY: I've been trying get a ride in the Nationwide Series and obviously the road courses races are the races that I can slot straight into, so that made it attractive to the team given my road course experience.
They were looking to put a road course racer in for this race so that has worked out well for me and I’m very grateful that it has all come together.
QUESTION: It must be a big deal for you to make your debut at the championship level of NASCAR in the Nationwide Series?
OWEN KELLY: It's something that I've been working on for a long, long time and I've been a huge NASCAR fan since I was probably 10 years old.
So it's certainly going to be a pretty cool day to be able to start my first NASCAR race and it will be even better if we can get a good result.
QUESTION: Do you think racing on a road course will give you a chance to run well despite it being your debut race?
OWEN KELLY: That's been my plan. The place where I can make the biggest impact in the category is on a road course. As a rookie, it's the most sensible place for me to try and make a big impact straight up.
So I definitely think that I'll have a decent shot. If I went into an oval race I'd be at something of a disadvantage compared to the experienced guys, but I think on a road course it puts me on a more level playing field with the others, not having driven these cars.
QUESTION: Road America is a very long, challenging and undulating circuit and arguably the Bathurst of the United States. Are you looking forward to racing there?
OWEN KELLY: I've done a million laps around there on iRacing and other than that I've watched plenty of IndyCar races from there. I know which way the track goes but I haven't actually driven around it myself.
I don't think learning the track will be a huge deal. Bathurst has got to be one of the toughest tracks in the world to get your head around and I can get around there OK, so I should be alright.
QUESTION: It's the first Nationwide Series race at Road America so not many drivers have prior experience there. Do you think that will help you given it will be something of a very level playing field?
OWEN KELLY: That's definitely going to work in my favour and I think that realistically if we can come out of there with a top 10 and a straight car that will be a great result.
QUESTION: Now that have got your first break into NASCAR, where do you want this to lead? You still have commitments with Jack Daniel's Racing back in V8 Supercars in the endurance events in Australia in September and October.
OWEN KELLY: The first aim is to try and do the other couple of road course races in August (at Watkins Glen and Montreal), but obviously I'm talking to the team about doing some of the oval track stuff as well. So I'd like to turn this opportunity into some more races.
The first thing is to get this first race out of the way and get it done nice and clean and tidy and then start working on trying to do more races.