America’s Dairyland has made its mark on NASCAR, from short tracks to the Cup Series, with names such as Matt Kenseth to Alan Kulwicki.
Wisconsin is getting the opportunity to host a Cup Series race for the first time since 1956. Although Road America has hosted Xfinity Series races since 2010 — with the Milwaukee Mile serving as host for years before that — this is only the second time that the highest level of NASCAR racing will be in Wisconsin.
The Cup Series returns to Road America on Sunday, 65 years since its previous visit, with the Jockey Made in America 250.
“It never really seemed like it was going to be a reality,” said Kenseth, a Cambridge native and former Cup champion. “It’s really neat that they are coming back to Wisconsin, racing up in Elkhart Lake. It’s a great facility and I think they’ll put on a good show up there.”
Kenseth laughed at the idea of coming out of retirement to compete in a Cup race in his home state. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if the same amount of people were at both the local races Friday and Saturday as Sunday’s main event.
“I think when a sport gets near to you and you can see it in person, people show up and watch a race,” Kenseth said. “Everybody gets more excited about auto racing. I feel like you can get more attention to the sport.”
Jesse Saunders, Kyle Larson’s car chief, used a University of Wisconsin football analogy to explain his feelings about Cup racing in his home state.
“I would almost compare it to when you see a Badger become an NFL star,” said Saunders, a New Glarus native. “It ties it all in because you’re proud of your roots. You’re proud of your hometown. You’re proud of everything that’s built you.”
Wisconsin has produced a number of notable NASCAR professionals, from drivers to crew members. While no state drivers are competing in Sunday’s race, there are three crew members who hope to help earn a win. Saunders joins Kevin Harvick car chief Bob “Cheddar” Smith, who grew up in Whitewater, and Ryan Newman’s lead race engineer, Travis Peterson, who is from West Bend.
Saunders said he has annoyed the rest of his crew with his love of the state as it prepares for Sunday’s race. He’s joked with them about bringing jars to collect “fresh turf” and to breathe the fresh Midwest air.
“Every win has a special moment,” Saunders said. “To be able to be a little selfish and win in your home state would be … the cherry for this one.”