Former Champ Car and Firestone Indy Lights driver Dan Clarke turned in his open-wheel kicks for a stock car seat this past weekend, making his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut at Watkins Glen International.
He most recently competed in the SCCA Pirelli World Challenge event at Mid-Ohio two weeks ago. Driving the CouponChad-sponsored No. 52 Chevrolet for Jimmy Means Racing, Clarke was immediately wowed by his new set of wheels.
“I can't express enough how much fun I had,” he said. “Friends and family have been asking me what it was like and the most fitting thing I can find to say is open-wheel cars feel like riding a unicorn, but NASCAR is like riding a wild bull! As a racer, I couldn't get enough of how awesome and fun the car was to drive. I came away wanting more.”
Clarke had limited track time with only eight completed laps in the two-hour practice session, and then five qualifying fliers prior to rolling off from 39th position in the Zippo 200.
“I didn't mind not being experienced at the beginning of the race,” he said. “The team explained their expectations of me given the preparation and money invested in this car, and they just wanted me to finish and hopefully score a top 25. So I hung back in the race, preserved my equipment, and waited for the caution periods.”
After 20 laps, Clarke pitted for engine inspection as he reported in losing a sizable amount of power. He retired shortly thereafter due to the niggling mechanical issues, finishing 39th as well, but confirmed the team planned to run the full race distance.
“The team wasn't too sure what was wrong but the noise and smoke blowing out of the rear was enough to tell us it wasn't right,” he said. “It's a shame not to finish the whole race. This is a full race distance operation and people are probably suspecting us of ‘start-and-parking' but it wasn't the case and both the team and I were frustrated not to complete the 200 miles and claim more prize money for the operation.”
A second start will have to wait, as Clarke said the team found another pay-driver for the race in Montreal (Louis-Philippe Dumoulin) after he was originally scheduled to go.
“I'm disappointed but I don't blame the team for doing what they have to do to continue racing and I'm grateful for being given a shot in the car,” he said. “Racing is also a business. I hope more opportunities will present themselves in the future now that I have NASCAR experience.”