Haven't been able to say this in quite a while, but it's a fun time to be a NASCAR fan as of late. On top of the push to this year's playoffs, stars from the world of motorsports continue to crossover into the sport, and a couple of massive names are now set for the Indianapolis Road Course race. Just this week, we got word that V8 Supercars title contender Brodie Kostecki is officially in, driving the No. 33 for Richard Childress Racing. Additionally, we got the news that Kamui Kobayashi, multi-time WEC World Champion and 2021 24 Hours of Le Mans winner would be in the No. 67 for 23XI quite some time ago.
Of course, we've gotten a couple of former F1 Champions, Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button, joining the fray in prior races, and most notably Shane Van Gisenberg as well, but what other drivers out there would be fun options to see drive a NASCAR Cup car?
- Driver has to be actively running in a major series without prior experience in the NASCAR Cup Series.
- Attempt to hit as many series as possible without circling back.
- Team/Manufacturer affiliation is taken into account, but this could hypothetically be for any team.
- All the drivers on the 'Big Three' Formula 1 teams (Red Bull, Mercedes, and Ferrari) are out of consideration. Would assume the chances of upper management signing off on something like this midseason aren't exactly high given driver/constructor championship implications (Lewis Hamilton would have been the pick of those three for what it is worth).
No. 1: Scott McLaughlin (IndyCar - Team Penske)
Accolades: Three-time V8 Supercars Champion (2018-2020), 56-time V8 Supercars race winner, 2020 Bathurst 1000 Winner, Four-time IndyCar race winner (44 starts), 2023 12 Hours of Sebring winner (LMP2 Class)
Could have gone with at least a half dozen IndyCar guys, but McLaughlin may have the best chance of success with his V8 Supercars background. The New Zealander isn't half bad in an open-wheel setting either. McLaughlin has quickly established himself at/near the top rung of IndyCar, coming away with three wins a season ago and finishing fourth in the points, and he's having a solid third full season at the moment, winning earlier this year at Barber Motorsports Park. He would have likely won at St. Petersburg two years in a row had he and Romain Grosjean not gotten tangled up late, but I digress.
A little after SVG won in Chicago, Kevin Harvick was asked about the prospect of McLaughlin giving NASCAR a shot, and the 2014 Champion was quick to say he'd be in great shape.
“So, I want to see [SVG] and Scott McLaughlin go at it; that’s what everybody talks about. I’m still of the opinion that Scott McLaughlin needs to be a stock car driver, so come over here and really showcase it. I’d love to see those guys go head-to-head on a road course; they’d put on some great shows.”
It goes without saying, but the obvious fit for Scotty Mac would be with Penske. I also wouldn't rule out the possibility of him trying the Memorial Day Double at some point. The Indy 500 hasn't been kind to the Kiwi, but in the other eight ovals he's run in IndyCar, he's averaged a 6.25 finish. That, and I have no doubts he would acclimate to a stock car on an oval track pretty quickly.
No. 2: David Gravel (World of Outlaws - Big Game Motorsports)
Accolades: 84-time WoO winner, 2019 Knoxville Nationals Champion, Current World of Outlaws Points Leader.
Hailing from well-noted dirt racing hotbed Watertown, Connecticut, Gravel has been a mainstay at the top rung of the Sprintcar food chain for the better part of the last decade. He's only had one points finish outside the top five since 2016, and only Brad Sweet has more wins than him since 2020 (33 to 35). In 2023, Gravel is in the catbird seat leading the WoO standings by just two points, with the Knoxville Nationals just a month out.
The story of Gravel's 2019 Knoxville National win is incredible if you have not heard of it. He was picked up for 2019 by Jason Johnson Racing after Jason Johnson had passed away in a crash the year prior, with his widow opting to continue with the team. Going into that year's Knoxville Nats, Axalta hopped on board to sponsor his No. 41 car due to one hell of an endorsement from none other than Jeff Gordon. Safe to say that was money well spent and quite the move by the NASCAR Hall of Famer.
As for pavement experience, Gravel does have a pair of NASCAR Truck Series starts to his name, one of which was a 10th in his first-ever start at Michigan. The Cup Series is a different animal, especially with this NextGen car, but that's a promising place to start. With that said, any short track would probably be the best place to see Gravel give NASCAR a shot, regardless of what team gives him that opportunity.
No. 3: Cam Waters (V8 Supercars - Tickford Racing)
Accolades: Four-time V8 Supercars racer winner, Three consecutive podiums in the last three Bathurst 1000s. 2020 and 2022 Bathurst 1000 Pole winner.
Not quite the resume of guys like SVG or Scott Mac, but do you want to know how good Waters is? Look at him win pthe ole for last year's Bathurst 1000 on a rain-soaked track.
Like Kodecki and SVG, Waters is another Supercars driver who has made it clear that he would love to give NASCAR a shot, and teams should be all over that. That apparently could be on a full-time basis if the rumor mill down under is to be believed. Could think of a lot worse ideas than signing a guy with ties to both Ford and Monster Energy who has top-tier road course experience and some down-under dirt racing experience to his name. But operating under the assumption he won't be jumping to NASCAR full-time, Waters would still be an unbelievable get for the spot. Stewart-Haas Racing (or them through Rick Ware Racing) would be a natural spot given Waters' ties to both Ford and Monster Energy.
No. 4: Ryo Hirakawa (World Endurance Championship - Toyota Gazoo Racing)
Accolades: 2022 WEC Hypercar World Champion, Current WEC Hypercar World Championship Points Leader, 2022 24 Hours of Le Mans Champion (Hypercar), 2017 Japan Super GT Champion, Four-time Japan Super Formula race winner, Three career WEC Hypercar wins in only 11 starts.
We're going to get a chance to see Hirakawa's teammate Kobayashi in a few weeks, but the 29-year-old has been a big part of the Toyota Gazoo No. 8 Hypercar effort. Since joining full-time starting last year, the triad of himself, alongside multi-time WEC Champions Brendon Harley and Sébastien Buemi, have won 3-of-11 races, with podiums in 9-of-11.
Dont think that Hirakawa is the third wheel here either, he was on closing duty in this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans and was given the green light to go all out for the win against Ferrari. Unfortunately, an accident put him and the team out of contention for the win, but that's the trust Toyota had in Hirakawa.
On top of his current WEC efforts, Hirakawa also runs in the Super Formula series in Japan (think a regional version of Formula 1) and previously was a Champion in the Super GT series in 2017. So safe to say he has a very good track record for someone who's yet to hit 30 years old. I wouldn't be shocked if we see Hirakawa come to the States and run a road course race for 23XI at some point in the next couple of years, especially if Kobayashi does well at Indy.
No. 5: Fernando Alonso (Formula 1 - Aston Martin)
Accolades: Two-time Formula 1 World Champion (2005, 2006), 32-career Formula 1 Grand Prix wins, WEC World Champion (2018-19 season), Two-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner (2018, 2019, LMP1), Won the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Daytona 4.5 months apart in 2019.
A renaissance man at 41 years old, Alonso is currently on track for his first top three points finish in Formula 1 since 2013, with Aston Martin no less. This is a man who has done just about everything in Motorsports but NASCAR. Outside of Formula 1, he's tried to make three separate Indy 500s and made two of them (better to forget about 2019 at this point), has been all over the place in endurance racing, and even took a chance at running the Dakar Rally in 2020.
Daniel Riccardo would have been the cop-out answer for an F1 driver now that he's back, but Alonso is legitimately one of the best racing talents ever, regardless of series. It would be a shame, especially now, if one of these teams could get him over here, at least once, to run a Cup car.
Honorable Mentions: Daniel Riccardo (Formula 1 - AlphaTauri), Scott Dixon (IndyCar - Chip Ganassi Racing), Josef Newgarden (IndyCar - Team Penske)
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