NASCAR Cup Series
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Mar 19, 2023
Jordan Taylor is the first to concede he’d rather not get his first NASCAR Cup Series start as a result of another driver’s unfortunate circumstance. But the opportunity to compete in NASCAR’s big leagues is one he’s dreamed of for a lifetime.
The 31-year old multi-time IMSA champion will steer the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for injured Chase Elliott in Sunday’s EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) road course in Austin, Texas.
Ironically, Taylor was testing with Garage 56 at COTA when he got the news; for months he’s been working with Hendrick Motorsports to prepare the Garage 56 entry for the 24 Hours of Le Mans this summer.
“I walked into the garage and [Hendrick Motorsports executive] Jeff [Gordon] was on the phone and Jeff basically told me [they wanted me to drive the car],” Taylor recalled with a smile. “It was crazy.
“We were testing the Garage 56 car that day, I was only supposed to do like 10 laps the whole test, and then as soon as I got confirmed for COTA they said, 'Alright, we’ll give him a couple extra laps.’“
Taylor’s first call to share the news was to his older brother Ricky Taylor, who, like Jordan, is a multi-time IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship champion. Ricky had encouraged Jordan to throw his hat into the ring for the COTA drive after finding out Elliott would have to miss the race.
“When he called to tell me, we both just started laughing because you put it in your mind that you’re going to be disappointed if you don’t get it, so we never even prepared for the fact that it could happen,” Ricky Taylor recalled with a smile. “So, Jordan called and said, ‘They said yes.’ And we were just so excited. I think it was just surreal.
“I’m so proud of him. He’s wanted to do a road course in NASCAR for so long. Everybody wants to do a road course, but for him, he’s always been GT-focused and touring car focused - although he has a very good prototype career - he’s always really excelled in those type of cars.
“To do a NASCAR race was never something I was super focused on, but it was always something he was going to excel with,” Ricky continued. “He’s been trying for years and when we drove with Jeff Gordon [at the 2017 Rolex 24] Jordan told him, ‘any time you can put my name in somewhere, whatever it might be.’
“All this timing just worked out perfectly, but obviously under unfortunate circumstances with Chase. But I think what I’m most proud of him for is, he put himself into an opportunity to get an opportunity. And he does the job on the track, which has earned it. I think the big surprise is just to do that race in any car is amazing opportunity, and to do it in a Hendrick car, a former champion’s car is unbelievable.”
The combination of Taylor’s track record – particularly at COTA – and the No. 9 Hendrick entry at COTA (Elliott won the inaugural NACAR Cup Series race there in 2020) has certainly been a confidence boost even though Taylor is trying to manage expectations.
In four career starts in IMSA races at the 3.427-mile 20-turn COTA circuit, Taylor has two wins from pole position, a runner-up showing, and a seventh place. He’s a four-time IMSA sports car champion with titles in both the prototype and GT classifications.
“I’m super excited because I know I’m in probably the best car any road course guy has ever gotten to drive,” Taylor said. “The scary thing is every road course guy that goes there, seems to struggle some. So, I know it’s going to be difficult. [Having such a good car] almost sets the expectations too high.
“I feel like I should be able to adapt and understand how it works and figure it out, but I know everyone in NASCAR these days is good on road courses.
“It’s a big opportunity, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that could be a one-time opportunity that never comes back again,” Taylor added. “So, I want to make the most of it that’s why I want to spend time really preparing for it. The team has sent me probably 10 hours of data to watch already. Before Sebring [last Saturday’s 12 Hour IMSA race], I’ve just been staring at the on-board footage trying to learn as much as I can.”
Taylor’s father, Wayne, a former IMSA champion driver turned multiple-time IMSA champion owner, is over-the-moon for his son’s chance in NASCAR. Although Ricky will be with Jordan in Austin, their parents have opted to say home in Orlando and watch the race on television – easing any pressure on Jordan or …. on himself, Wayne Taylor allowed with a smile.
“I’m so excited for him and I’m so proud of him,” Wayne Taylor said. “This is a big, big deal and I’ll be able to watch it and see everything.
“I’m just so happy for Jordan, so proud of him. To get a call from Rick Hendrick and Jeff Gordon, it doesn’t get any better than that, and to drive the best car in the series. I’m so excited.”
For those that have followed Jordan Taylor’s career, this weekend’s opportunity has felt like a long time coming. He’s absolutely proven himself a champion on track and he’s a huge fan favorite off the track – his “Rodney Sandstorm” NASCAR fan alter-ego has a large pop culture following.
The two will come together this weekend at COTA and there are genuine and legitimate high hopes.
“It’s hard to believe still, to be honest,” Taylor said. “Even like going to the race shop and making the seat, it still feels like you’re going through motions. It’s just so hard to believe. I think until I get there [COTA] in person and see my name on the car, I’m rolling out of the garage and on the radio with those guys, it’s super surreal.
“To think I tried for so many years just to do any road course race – for 10 years probably – and I’ve been close to doing Xfinity races and truck races, never even tried Cup and now for this to happen with a top Cup team … it’s just. … ridiculous [smiling].”
Ridiculous meaning impactful. And that’s evident on Taylor’s face, evident in his voice as he speaks about the upcoming race weekend.
And as it turns out, Taylor will be racing against two of his other Garage 56 teammates in seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, who is driving the No. 84 car this week at COTA and 2009 Formula One world champion Jenson Button, who is making his NASCAR debut driving the No. 15 Rick Ware Racing Ford.
Another F1 champion, Kimi Raikkonen will be competing at COTA too, steering the No. 91 Project 91 Chevrolet for Trackhouse Racing.
“It’s crazy,” Taylor said with a smile, contemplating what a big weekend this will be for him. “I would have been super excited just to watch this race with those guys in it. It feels weird to be part of it and have my name in it and be in the headlines alongside those guys.
“These are guys we grew up watching on TV, that I never thought I’d meet let alone race against them. They are all in good cars so I think it will be exciting to see that hopefully, we’re all competitive in the race.
-Photo credit: James Gilbert/Getty Images