Well, Valentino Rossi didn’t really join NASCAR, but he got behind the wheel of some stock car machinery following a weekend of racing at the newest track on the MotoGP schedule – Circuit of Americas in Austin, Texas.
The nine-time World Champion, who finished sixth at Austin MotoGP Sunday, stayed stateside on Monday, traveling to the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway in the heart of NASCAR country, North Carolina.
At the track Monday morning, Rossi took a break from piloting his Yamaha Factory Racing YZR-M1 prototype, and got behind the wheel of Kyle Busch’s Nationwide Toyota Camry. To enhance the experience, the Camry Rossi drove was painted in Monster Energy livery, donning Rossi’s famed “46” on the doors.
Busch, who has won the last three NASCAR rounds, first met with Rossi, and went over the car with him. Busch explained to VR46 how to tame the 650 horsepower from the 358 cubic-inch V8 engine contained with the steel-tube framed car.
Rossi then put on a headset, and listened as Busch put in some laps at North Carolina Speedway with its four 24-degree banked turns. After further discussing some NASCAR technique, Rossi was let loose on the track.
Rossi quickly got comfortable, hitting speeds around 185 mph. His lap times continued to drop as the test progressed. When all was done, Rossi was happy to have the opportunity to drive Busch’s Toyota Camry.
Valentino Rossi (Yamaha Factory Racing YZR-M1 MotoGP) says: “It was so cool to understand the feeling! I have a lot of friends from Europe and Italy who follow NASCAR. It looks like it’s a completely different type of racing than what we do in Europe and I expected something more like this –exciting, high speed and a great feeling in the corner. In the bank you have a lot of grip, so you are glued on the racetrack. It was great, I enjoyed it a lot. I love driving the race car, and I always have, so it was exciting to drive a NASCAR.
“At the beginning it was a bit strange because it’s difficult to go straight. But after some laps, I had a lot of confidence and I was able to go faster and faster and faster. I must say I got along very well with Kyle. He’s a good guy. I like him and he gave me a lot of important advice.”
With 55 career Nationwide wins, Kyle Busch is the top NASCAR Nationwide driver in history. Besides enjoying hanging out with Rossi, he was also impressed with Rossi’s driving.
Kyle Busch says: “I thought it was a really cool experience and it also helps when you have two guys who are enthusiastic about their sport and have a good mantra about it,” smiled ‘Rowdy’ Busch. “I think Rossi is a really cool dude. We were just having fun, hanging out together. To me, I thought the experience was awesome. It’s cool Monster Energy brought us together, it was a lot of fun. Just getting the feeling of asking him about his sport and him asking me about NASCAR a little bit. Just having the dialogue there was good.
“And as far as driving the car, I thought he did pretty good. He started out a little slow, which is fine, but every lap he picked it up a lot. He got to where he was running some competitive lap speeds – times that would put him in the top-15 in Nationwide Series practice. That’s pretty good for a guy in his first start, who is just coming over and getting used to things and someone that is used to driving on two wheels.”
Following the event, the true players behind the track also commented:
Lin Jarvis (Managing Director of Yamaha) says: “For me it’s really fascinating to come here to Charlotte, to the home of NASCAR – this is my first contact with NASCAR, ever – so it’s something I really wanted to do at least one time. To be here with Joe Gibbs Racing and Kyle Busch, that’s as good as it gets. To have Valentino mix it up here, experience the car, is a fascinating experience for him as well. I just saw Valentino when he came in off the track and even through that helmet, you could see that huge smile on his face. He’s enjoying it and I think this is really great. Thanks to Monster Energy for making this possible.”
Joe Gibbs (Owner/Operator behind JGR) says: “Well it’s exciting, you’ve got Kyle and Valentino – someone that is great on four wheels and someone that is great on two wheels. I think you can even see that everyone here gets hyped up about it too. I think it was a fun deal and it was a lot of fun to be a part of it. I thought Valentino did really well, as a matter of fact I’m thinking about offering him a contract.”