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Not only does WGI produce some of the most exciting races and memorable finishes on the NASCAR schedule, but this year, it also serves as the penultimate race to a regular season that has seen 15 different winners. Five of those winners had never won before the 2022 season.
Even beyond its playoff importance, there’s another reason why this race will be historic. Seven different countries will be represented, the most ever in a single NASCAR Cup Series race.
The 2010 Cup race at Sonoma and the 2013 Cup race at Watkins Glen come close, with six nations represented. Additionally, only seven times in the 70+ year history of the sport has an international driver taken the checkered flag in the Cup Series.
This weekend’s grid will be made up of some very prominent international drivers, with very successful careers. Of course, there’s full-time NASCAR driver and native of Monterrey, Mexico, Daniel Suarez. The former NASCAR Xfinity Series champion became the first Mexican-born driver to ever win a Cup Series race earlier this year at Sonoma Raceway.
Race winner Daniel Suarez, TrackHouse Racing, Onx Homes / Renu Chevrolet Camaro
Photo by: Jasen Vinlove / NKP / Motorsport Images
But then there’s Kimi Raikkonen, 2007 Formula 1 World Champion and winner of 21 races over his remarkable 20-year career. In his highly anticipated Cup Series debut, the Finnish driver will pilot the No. 91 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet as a teammate to both Suarez and Ross Chastain, who have combined to win two of the four road course races run so far this year. He has two previous NASCAR starts, one each in the Truck and Xfinity Series back in 2011. He’ll certainly be one to watch, but the average NASCAR fan may take issue with him being called the ‘Iceman’ as it’s also the nickname of NASCAR Hall of Famer Terry Labonte!
Photo by: Project91
Like Raikkonen, Mike Rockenfeller will be making his NASCAR Cup Series debut. The veteran German racer is best known for his overall victory as an Audi driver in the 2010 24 Hours of Le Mans, as well as capturing the 2013 DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters) title. He will be behind the wheel of the No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet this weekend, and is one I believe might just be the best-performing driver out of this group on Sunday.
Mike Rockenfeller, Abt Sportsline
Photo by: Alexander Trienitz
Team Hezeberg is a fairly new team at the Cup level, but they are no strangers to fielding international drivers. Former F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve made his Daytona 500 debut with the team in February, driving the No. 27 Ford Mustang. Since then, they have run Dutchman and 2x NASCAR Euro Series champion Loris Hezemans in every road course race.
Loris Hezemans, Team Hezeberg, Hezeberg Systems Ford Mustang
Photo by: Rusty Jarrett / NKP / Motorsport Images
Team Hezeberg recently entered a second car for the first time at the Indianapolis Road Course, with Russian driver Daniil Kvyat behind the wheel of the No. 26 Toyota Camry. They will do so again at Watkins Glen, where Kvyat hopes to improve upon Indy where he failed to finish the race due to mechanical issues. The ex-F1 driver and Red Bull prospect started over 100 races, scoring three podiums during his career there.
Daniil Kvyat, Red Bull Racing celebrates his third place
Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool
The list continues with UK racing driver Kyle Tilley, who is listed as the driver of the No. 78 Live Fast Motorsports Ford Mustang. Of the part-timers on this list, he is the most experienced NASCAR driver of them all, with just four Cup starts over the last two years. The sports car driver has a class victory in the 2021 Rolex 24 at Daytona, and is part of the 2021 title-winning Asian Le Mans Series team in the LMP2-Am class.
Kyle Tilley, Live Fast Motorsports, Ford Mustang Bremont / Battle Associates
Photo by: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP / Motorsport Images
The 33 American drivers on the entry list bumps the list up to seven. It may not seem that impressive in comparison to the current F1 grid or the average IndyCar field, but it’s still an important milestone for NASCAR as they continue to work towards expanding their audience.
With a shot at the playoffs on the line and all these drivers of varying racing backgrounds, Sunday is sure to be another Watkins Glen race that we won’t soon forget.