After NASCAR Cup Champion Chase Elliott decided to test the midget ranks, Chris Windom thought turnabout would be fair play.
Next month, the USAC Midget champion and Triple Crown winner looks to make his debut in a Cup car when NASCAR's top division rolls into Bristol Motor Speedway for NASCAR’s return to dirt.
Windom, 30, will drive the No. 15 NOS Energy Chevrolet for Rick Ware Racing in the inaugural Food City Dirt Race on Sunday, March 28. The opportunity is the latest step for Windom and his sprint car team owner, Brodie Hayward.
“I don’t know what to expect,” Windom told RacinBoys.com. “I haven’t met my crew chief yet, but hopefully we can work well together. Out of all of the races this year, this will level the playing field as much as anything. The superspeedways do that some but the dirt on a half-mile—you’re obviously going to have to have a good car but I think a lot of it will be driving style.
“Having all of the dirt experience I have, I think I’ll be better at relaying information back to the team than the guys that have never raced on dirt before—or very limited dirt—whether the car is tight or loose or how it’s reacting. But I think it will be a big learning experience for everybody that goes there because I don’t think anyone is going to get much practice beforehand.
‘With all the experience I’ve had racing on dirt, I’ll have an advantage right out of the gate.”
Veteran crew chief Pat Tryson will oversee Windom’s maiden voyage into the Cup series. Tryson is celebrating his 24th season in Cup. He has worked with a variety of drivers, including Kurt Busch, Mark Martin and Martin Truex Jr.
“I am excited to have Chris make his debut in the NASCAR Cup Series with Rick Ware Racing in the inaugural dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway,” said team owner, Rick Ware. “Chris is an established dirt racer, whose achievements surpass many. I’m looking forward to seeing him race, and hopefully, bring home a good finish."
Ware, who competed himself before venturing into Cup ownership in 2012, currently fields four cars in NASCAR's top tour--the Nos. 51, 52, 53 and 15. RWR also competes in sports cars and announced an IndyCar partnership with Dale Coyne last month.
“It’s obviously a big transition, but the dirt part of it helps someone like me who races on dirt more than 100 times a year,” Windom said. “It’s a whole different kind of race car—a whole different driving style. Not a lot transitions into it from open-wheel racing. I found that out from racing in the truck series.”
In addition to his dirt background, Windom has five Camping World Truck starts and ran seven races on the ARCA Menard’s tour, where he scored two top fives and five top 10 finishes.
“Obviously, the feel, the sensation of sliding through the corners helps somebody that’s been on dirt a lot like me,” Windom said. “But still, a huge learning curve for me with everything—shifting the car on restarts, pit stops and everything. That will be the biggest learning curve but it’s definitely a really unique and cool opportunity to put this deal together to go and run Bristol.
“I’m definitely going to take advantage of it as much as I can. I’m going down there to try and have fun but trying to actually compete, too, is what we’re going for.”
Two years ago, the Canton, Illinois-native joined Brodie Hayward to drive the No. 19 Hayward Motorsports USAC sprint car. Hayward has expanded the program to add 410 sprint cars and now along with NOS and David Byrd a NASCAR Cup start.
“It’s a natural progression,” Hayward said. “Chris is racing everything—midgets, 410 non-wings and now we’re doing 410 winged-cars. Chris has some experience in Indy cars and some NASCAR trucks. Chris is my number one driver so there wouldn’t be any reason for me not to put him in it.
“I think Chris is probably as good of a fit as anybody in the community of racing. He is uniquely qualified to jump over from open-wheel into NASCAR. We love racing as much as Chris does. We just want to have good drivers, good equipment and good finishes--and Chris has produced that for us. I think we'll continue to do that this year with partners like David Byrd and Rick Ware.”
With his limited stock car background, Windom is realistic entering this next challenge. He’s studied video from when the World of Outlaws raced at the half-mile bullring and expects Bristol to be a blast.
“I’m very fortunate to be in the position I’m in and to have the support that I have from NOS Energy Drink, Hayward, David Byrd and everyone else that helped put this program together,” Windom said. “I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without them. It all starts with them.
“I just want to go to Bristol and make everyone proud and have fun.”