Have a go hero: An ex-F1 racer’s ‘three-hour bar fight’ in NASCAR

There aren't many drivers that after reaching Formula 1 have tried their hand at NASCAR. But Jan Magnussen recalls his one-off outing at Sonoma in 2010 as one of the best of his long career

Have a go hero: An ex-F1 racer’s ‘three-hour bar fight’ in NASCAR

Having contested 24 Formula 1 grand prix for McLaren and Stewart during the 1990s, Jan Magnussen is no stranger to the motorsport limelight. But the Dane admits that he tried to go under the radar for a one-off NASCAR Cup Series appearance at Sonoma in 2010, which he describes as a “fantastic experience”.

Despite an impressive junior single-seater career which included prestigious wins at the 1992 Formula Ford Festival and a record-breaking British Formula 3 title success in 1994, his time in grand prix racing was short-lived and yielded but a single point on his final outing at the 1998 Canadian Grand Prix.

But a move into sportcars reignited his career, first proving his class alongside David Brabham at Panoz before a switch to Corvette Racing allowed him to flourish with four Le Mans 24 Hours class wins between 2004 and 2009.

Archive: How F1-exile Magnussen made the switch to sportscars 

It also paved the way for further opportunities in America and ultimately his memorable NASCAR cameo, where he finished 12th.

Alongside his commitments in the American Le Mans Series, Magnussen had been working with NASCAR's top General Motors outfit Hendrick Motorsports to develop road course set-ups and “as a bonus” was given the chance to compete in a race aboard a fifth Chevrolet fielded by sister squad Phoenix Racing.

“The cars are heavy with big, soft tyres, and a stiff rear axle,” recalls Magnussen of the car’s characteristics. “It just takes a different driving style, you’ve got to be super patient with everything you do.

“But there’s so much power, 850-900 horsepower or something. Incredible! [It had] four gears, but it felt like with that amount of power you just pick a gear you like.”

Magnussen enjoyed the enormous power of the under-gripped stock cars

Magnussen enjoyed the enormous power of the under-gripped stock cars

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Despite having to adapt to the car, Magnussen had high expectations of himself heading to the 16th round of that year's championship at the 1.99-mile Sonoma Raceway. It was a track he knew well from ALMS exploits - having memorably won there with the Panoz in 2002, he and Brabham beating the vastly superior Audi R8 of Tom Kristensen and Johnny Herbert by less than half a second.

“The testing had gone really well and I had really high hopes, I thought I can do well here,” he says. “But the way you get prepared for a race weekend is quite different from anything else I’ve experienced before. The amount of running is very limited.”

The now 48-year-old could only qualify 32nd on the 43-car grid. But with 110 laps of racing to come, he knew there would be opportunity aplenty to rise up the order by simply staying out of trouble as those around him became embroiled in NASCAR's inevitable push-and-shove.

“I made a plan immediately from stories that I’d heard, I need to stay below the radar for as long as possible,” he says. “The other guys that were there just for the road course race were being super-aggressive to begin with and they did get ahead of me - but they soon got wiped out by the locals!

"I knew it was only going to be the road courses, so I did more testing after that - but obviously my calendar at that time was pretty booked so unfortunately no more came out of it" Jan Magnussen

“There’s so much going on the whole time, it was like a bar room fight for three hours.”

Another driver making his NASCAR debut that weekend was two-time DTM champion Mattias Ekstrom, who Magnussen admitted he was measuring himself against - and ultimately beat, after the Swede was spun out by Brad Keselowski.

Magnussen's race also wasn’t without incident, as he made contact with Carl Edwards four laps from home which sent the incensed 2008 series runner-up into a spin.

“He had me in a stranglehold after the race,” laughs Magnussen. “I got pushed into him, but it was still me that hit him. I got pushed into him right after his spotter had told my spotter that they were racing for points. But my spotter told his spotter that we weren’t…”

Ekstrom got ahead of Magnussen but the Dane finished ahead after the DTM champion ruffled a few feathers

Ekstrom got ahead of Magnussen but the Dane finished ahead after the DTM champion ruffled a few feathers

Photo by: Motorsport Images

While Magnussen could be pleased with his day's work, his efforts in developing road course set-ups with Hendrick had also proven its worth as Jimmie Johnson took victory, while Jeff Gordon finished fifth. With all five Hendrick-affiliated cars inside the top 15 finishers, Magnussen says his one-off outing was mutually beneficial to all.

“My team-mates were Dale Earnhardt Jr, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Jimmie Johnson, like 10-11 championships right there [at the time],” he says.

“They were all great, but Dale Earnhardt Jr was fantastic to work with. So considerate and really appreciated whatever help I could bring. Hendrick Motorsports was great, an unbelievable team.”

Magnussen continued working with the team through the rest of the season with the intention to do more road courses, but his clashing sportscar schedule prevented any further NASCAR outings.

“I hoped to do more,” he says. “I knew it was only going to be the road courses, so I did more testing after that - but obviously my calendar at that time was pretty booked so unfortunately no more came out of it.

“But NASCAR is one of the coolest experiences I’ve had.”

Strong finish for Hendrick team vindicated Magnussen's set-up work, but he didn't get another race opportunity

Strong finish for Hendrick team vindicated Magnussen's set-up work, but he didn't get another race opportunity

Photo by: Motorsport Images

shares
comments
NASCAR brings back practice and qualifying for 2022
Previous article

NASCAR brings back practice and qualifying for 2022

Next article

Richard Petty Motorsports sells majority stake in NASCAR Cup team

Richard Petty Motorsports sells majority stake in NASCAR Cup team
Load comments
How Larson took the long way round to NASCAR Cup glory Plus

How Larson took the long way round to NASCAR Cup glory

From villain to hero, Kyle Larson’s journey to the 2021 NASCAR Cup title comes straight from the Hollywood blockbuster scripts. While Larson had to reach his lifelong goal the hard way and go through a very public shaming after a ban for using a racial slur, his talents shone long before his name grabbed the headlines for both the right and the wrong reasons

NASCAR
Nov 10, 2021
How NASCAR is gearing up for its "biggest change" in 2022 Plus

How NASCAR is gearing up for its "biggest change" in 2022

It’s not just Formula 1 that’s set for upheaval in 2022, as the NASCAR Cup Series adopts its Next Gen cars that will cast any in-built advantages aside and require teams to adopt a totally new way of operating. Far more than just a change of machinery, the new cars amount to a shift in NASCAR's core philosophy

NASCAR
Oct 12, 2021
Why Bubba Wallace’s Talladega win is such a big moment for NASCAR Plus

Why Bubba Wallace’s Talladega win is such a big moment for NASCAR

Bubba Wallace claimed his maiden NASCAR Cup Series at Talladega on Monday to become the first Black victor in the category since Wendell Scott in 1963. Both Wallace and Scott had faced obstacles and racism in their paths to their breakthrough wins, and NASCAR is trying to put it right with its range of diversity programmes

NASCAR
Oct 5, 2021
Why NASCAR's most resilient driver has landed on his feet at 23XI Plus

Why NASCAR's most resilient driver has landed on his feet at 23XI

In a career that has had many ups and downs, Kurt Busch has been written off many times before. But facing career uncertainty after the sale of Chip Ganassi's NASCAR team, the 2004 Cup champion has found a new berth at Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan's 23XI organisation - which underlines his enduring value

NASCAR
Aug 31, 2021
The F1 nearly-man winding back the clock in NASCAR’s European cousin Plus

The F1 nearly-man winding back the clock in NASCAR’s European cousin

A multiple F3000 race winner, Marc Goossens was on the precipice of making Formula 1 in the 1990s - but a lack of budget left him without a path to the promised land. Turning to an illustrious racing career in sportscars, Goossens left the endurance circuit to try his hand at racing stock cars - and now calls the NASCAR Euro Series home

NASCAR
Jul 1, 2021
Why a British prospect is trying to make it in NASCAR Plus

Why a British prospect is trying to make it in NASCAR

There has never been a full-time British driver in the NASCAR Cup. But Alex Sedgwick, who is rising through the stock car ranks, wants that to change and could be a trailblazer for European talents to reach the top echelons of the NASCAR ladder

NASCAR
Feb 28, 2021
How Earnhardt’s death changed American motorsport Plus

How Earnhardt’s death changed American motorsport

It's 20 years since legendary driver Dale Earnhardt Sr died at the Daytona 500, but the legacy of his crash continues today through the pioneering safety work done by NASCAR

NASCAR
Feb 18, 2021
The NASCAR subplots to keep an eye on in 2021 Plus

The NASCAR subplots to keep an eye on in 2021

This weekend's Daytona 500 kickstarts a NASCAR Cup season that promises plenty of intrigue courtesy of new owners and a refreshed calendar. Here's what you need to know ahead of the new season

NASCAR
Feb 12, 2021