Trackhouse Racing has been causing a huge stir ever since its inception, really. The NASCAR team, which is co-owned by Mr. Worldwide himself Pitbull, has been making a huge mark on the typically traditionalist series by doing things a little differently. Its coolest project though is the one it revealed very recently. Project 91 aims to bring big stars of motorsport into NASCAR by running them in a third #91 car. So far, only one driver has been confirmed to be taking part in the project. That driver is Formula 1 legend Kimi Raikkonen, who will be driving the #91 car in a one-off appearance at Watkins Glen in August.
The announcement of Project 91 and its future intentions has started a big and exciting debate over which drivers could appear under the program in the future. There are plenty of potential drivers from all over the globe who could have a go with it. I’ve put together a list of people I think Trackhouse should consider putting in the #91 for at least one race.
I know this might be a bit of an obvious one, which is why I’ve decided to kick off my list with him. Scott Dixon is arguably one of the greatest IndyCar drivers of all time. 6 championships, 1 Indy 500 win and the most laps led ever in Indy 500 history is more than enough to testify for that. He’s also spent a fair amount of time racing sports cars on the side and he’s even dabbled in V8 Supercars too. Surprisingly though as a racer who has lived in America for pretty much his entire adult life, Scotty D has never competed in any form of stock car racing! Perhaps it’s time for that to change.
Dixon in NASCAR could be one of many great driver options that could really get the media talking about Project 91 and NASCAR in particular. He would definitely be great in the car on a road course or an oval and he would become yet another name amongst many IndyCar stars who have decided to have a crack at NASCAR. With Chip Ganassi Racing not having an active stake in NASCAR right now either, it seems like a one-off deal with Trackhouse could very easily be put together.
Furthermore, it looks like it won’t be too long before Dixon is no longer a full-time IndyCar driver. He’s 41 years old now and, whilst Helio Castroneves and Jimmie Johnson are somehow managing full-time schedules in the series at a significantly older age than him, he may want to cut down to just racing at Indy in the very near future due to the unavoidable atrophy that age puts on the skills of open-wheel drivers. With more free time to do odd little excursions like that in a post-IndyCar schedule, Trackhouse should really be keeping an eye on how Dixon’s career is progressing and wait for the right time to reach out with a one-off deal.
Kimi Raikkonen (again)
I know he’s already doing it this year. But, if he ends up doing well at Watkins Glen in August, it would definitely be worth bringing the Iceman back into the Project 91 program for more races. Kimi has a huge global fanbase thanks to his incredible driving skills and unique personality and it would be silly of Trackhouse to not exploit that as much as it can.
Of course, how much Kimi would be able to do (or, perhaps more crucially, how much he would want to do) will depend a lot on how much time he wants to spend with his family and how much time he needs to dedicate to his job as the Team Principal of a motocross team. If this can all be worked around, though, I could easily see Kimi Raikkonen becoming a regular entrant in the #91 car.
Formula 1’s most successful Spaniard looks like he’ll be exiting that world for good fairly soon, after a very successful late-career comeback with Alpine. With a schedule that takes him away from F1, the potential really opens up for Alonso to try something that he hasn’t tried before in racing. With him not really wanting to return to IndyCar, a run at a road course in the Project 91 car could be a fantastic thing for Fernando to do.
It’s pretty obvious that Fernando Alonso is a huge draw in motorsport. He has a huge fanbase all across the globe thanks to his legendary ability and his unique and often abrasive character. Him popping up in the #91 car would definitely get new people tuning in to watch him have a go at NASCAR. Perhaps he could even be the next Formula 1 driver to have a go at one of NASCAR’s most fabled races, the Daytona 500? That would certainly grab Fernando’s attention!
Danny Ric loves NASCAR. His choice of the number 3 in Formula 1 was influenced by his love of “The Intimidator” Dale Earnhardt. He’s also driven stock cars a couple of times in demonstration runs, most notably one of Dale Sr.’s original race-winning cars that’s owned by his current boss Zak Brown. Dale’s son Dale Earnhardt Jr. has also floated the possibility of getting the Australian into an Xfinity race via his own team as a one-off. With that in mind, why doesn’t Trackhouse reach out to Ricciardo about the possibility of doing a one-off race in the Cup Series?
It is worth mentioning here that this is unlikely to happen any time soon. It looks like Ricciardo could be in F1 with McLaren for a little while to come. This is despite there being a lot of worries about his performance compared to his teammate Lando Norris. A run in the #91 car for Ricciardo would definitely have to wait until his F1 career is over and he’s moved on elsewhere, likely to sports car racing and/or something like Formula E.
In the UK, Jason Plato is one of the biggest stars in racing who isn’t Lewis Hamilton or Jenson Button. Globally, however, he’s in the bracket of being somebody who is criminally underrated. The touring car legend is retiring completely from the British Touring Car Championship he has made his home since the late 90s at the end of this year. Fully open to new opportunities from 2023, perhaps this is the right time for him to have a go at NASCAR?
He’s already had a small amount of experience racing a stock car on an oval (via the defunct ASCAR “Days of Thunder” series) and the new generation Cup Series cars are more similar to the machinery that he’s used to than the older cars were. Furthermore, he is a true “rubbin’ is racin’” driver who isn’t afraid to rock the boat a little to get what he wants. Combine all of these things and it seems like Plato would be a no-brainer for Trackhouse to put in the 91 car for a race or two.
Plato’s arch-nemesis Matt Neal is somebody who should also really be in consideration for a drive in the #91 car. Like Plato, Neal already has some experience with stock car racing in Europe and, also like Plato, he cut his teeth in the fiercely competitive BTCC. His “rubbin’ is racin’” driving style would really appeal to NASCAR crowds, as would his larger than life 6’6”(!) stature and legendarily fiery temper!
The biggest problem with potentially getting Neal involved is that he hasn’t raced for a couple of years. Whilst he has tested racing cars in the intervening time and hasn’t ruled out a return to competition, he seems to have slipped into some kind of management or advisory role with his historic home Team Dynamics. With such an extended period out of racing, he could be a little bit rusty.
Much like his British peers mentioned above, Fabrizio Giovinardi is a legend of touring car racing and one of the most criminally underrated drivers in terms of global motorsport. The Italian has provided some brilliant moments over the years in touring cars and has the right kind of daredevil aggressive style for stock car racing. Couple that with the new generation Cup Series cars being more similar to what he’s used to (as I’ve mentioned above with Plato) and, again, he really seems like a no-brainer to me.
The big issue with trying to get Giovinardi though is that his status as an active driver is uncertain. He’s 55 years old now and he hasn’t raced competitively since 2018. Whilst seeing Giovinardi in a NASCAR Cup Series car would be amazing, there is a very high chance that he may just want to retire quietly and not bother with racing again.
This might be an odd choice for the #91 car, but it’s not out of the realms of possibility. The Japanese racing legend has said in the past that he would like to have a go at NASCAR. Project 91 might be a great place to give that a go, providing his employer Toyota would be happy with it. His Formula 1 and World Endurance Championship pedigree would certainly bring a wider audience to the sport and his great character, sense of humour and occasional brilliant nuggets of wisdom would really endear himself to the NASCAR crowd.
The big spanner in the works though could be Toyota. As Toyota actively competes in NASCAR as a manufacturer, it might want Kobayashi to run a race in a team that uses Toyotas. With Trackhouse being a Chevy team, that could mean that any chance of him running in the #91 car could be destroyed by what is essentially contracts and politics.
Yes, Kobayashi has driven for other manufacturers alongside his roles at Toyota (the most notable one recently being him driving a Cadillac during the Rolex 24 this year), but he has only done this in series where Toyota doesn’t have an active interest. NASCAR is one where Toyota does have an active interest and, if Kobayashi really does want to have a go with NASCAR, we may see him driving for a Toyota-backed team like 23XL Racing or Joe Gibbs Racing. Whilst that would still be great for NASCAR, it would suck a little bit for Trackhouse. Oh well…
Scotty Mac has to be a shoe-in for a road course race in a Cup Series car at some point, surely? The New Zealander’s three V8 Supercars championships prove that he’s got the perfect kind of driving style to tackle these big, heavy stock cars. He’s also been surprisingly brilliant on ovals, adapting to the completely different approach needed for them really well despite having no oval experience at all before moving to America.
Whilst it’s more likely that he’ll appear in the NASCAR Cup Series via an extra Penske car, if he was to ever leave the Penske fold I wouldn’t be surprised if that opens up talks with Trackhouse to get him into the #91 car. This is something I could see happening for a race at his new home track Charlotte Motor Speedway, either on the oval for the Coke 600 or on the unique roval layout.
Yes, I know that Jimmie is a NASCAR legend. He doesn’t need the additional platform of Project 91. But, it would potentially allow him to do one of the coolest feats you can do in American motorsport. He could do the double of the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day!
It’s very rare that you see drivers do the double, just because of how logistically insane it is. Whilst the Coke 600 starts later on in the day than the Indy 500, Charlotte is a fair distance to travel from Indianapolis. If Trackhouse wants to help Jimmie achieve the double, it’d better hope that Pitbull has a private jet and a couple of motorcades on standby!
Juan Pablo Montoya
Again, like Jimmie Johnson, Juan Pablo Montoya has already raced in the NASCAR Cup Series in the past and doesn’t need the rub from Project 91. But, a significant amount of the NASCAR fanbase believes that JPM didn’t get enough of a chance when he was originally there. With no existing ties to any other teams competing in NASCAR and a connection with Chevy thanks to his recurrent Indy drive with Arrow McLaren SP, it seems like Montoya using Project 91 to make a part-time return to NASCAR could be a real possibility.
It really seems like a no-brainer to bring in Montoya. He is wildly popular with fans of all disciplines of motorsport from all over the world. His personality suits the NASCAR paddock well too and he would be an absolute blast to work with during the PR build-up to his appearance(s). Who knows, maybe he could even pull out a surprisingly good result on the day too!
There’s also the potential with Montoya that, like Jimmie Johnson, he could use Project 91 to pull off the double of doing the Indy 500 and the Coke 600 on the same day. Whilst this isn’t something I think the Colombian has ever talked about having a go at, it would certainly be brilliant for his PR, Trackhouse’s PR and NASCAR’s PR in general.
Shane Van Gisbergen
Shane Van Gisbergen is one of the V8 Supercars Championship’s most recognisable drivers. The New Zealander is a 2 time champion of the series (2016 & 2021) and is currently on the way to a potential third title. He’s had a successful career internationally in GT cars too, which includes competing in the 24 Hours of Daytona multiple times as well as other major endurance races across the globe. He’s also only one of two drivers, along with Paul Morris, to have won all three of the major car racing events at Mount Panorama (the Bathurst 1000, the Bathurst 6 Hour and the Bathurst 12 Hour). This includes McLaren’s first win at the Bathurst 12 Hour. That’s a mighty impressive CV!
His skills racing at the top level of touring car racing and in GT racing would no doubt help him if he were to do a road course race in the NASCAR Cup Series. It would also help bring more Australian fans to NASCAR, thanks to him being such a big name in the V8 Supercars series he calls his home. The only real question here is whether the fairly rigorous V8 Supercars schedule, along with his regular excursions into GT racing, would allow him time to do a race in the #91 car.
Simona De Silvestro
This one might seem like a bit of a wildcard, but hear me out. Simona De Silvestro is a super popular driver, especially in Australia thanks to how much the fans embraced her during her run in the V8 Supercars Championship and in America thanks to her ongoing on-and-off run in IndyCar. She’s competed in multiple disciplines of racing, but NASCAR is something that she seemingly hasn’t had a go yet.
So, why doesn’t Trackhouse reach out to her? She’d easily feel right at home in the new Cup Series cars, as they’re not too far away from the V8 Supercars and GT3 cars she’s raced in the past. Furthermore, her personality and unpretentious nature would go down well with the fans in the world of NASCAR. She’d also join a slowly growing gaggle of women who have driven in the series, no doubt helping with NASCAR’s attempts to increase the series’ diversity. Absolutely nobody loses here!
Again, this one is a bit of a wildcard, but to me it makes a lot of sense. Pippa Mann has made America her home for quite a while now and she’s had experience in quite a few different disciplines of racing, including experience with ovals via IndyCar. As a seasoned professional who has raced touring cars and GT cars in the past, she would have absolutely no issues getting to grips with the latest iteration of the NASCAR Cup Series car.
Like De Silvestro mentioned above, Mann is a real fan favourite driver who has been a great spokesperson for diversity and inclusion in motorsports. Getting her involved with Project 91 could really help to boost NASCAR’s efforts to further diversity.
If there’s one thing we know about the MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi, it’s that he can race absolutely anything. Bikes? Yep, multiple championships there. GT cars? He’s currently doing pretty decently at that. Rally cars? He can give them a good go too. So, why not NASCAR?
It seems like a really logical step for Rossi to have a go at stock car racing. He has actually tested a stock car before in 2013, specifically a Nationwide Series car usually driven by Kyle Busch on the oval at Charlotte Motor Speedway. With a little bit of NASCAR testing experience already under his belt, it really wouldn’t be that big of a leap for him to step into the 91 car for one or two races.
21-year-old Bavarian Sophia Floersch is highly regarded as one of motorsport’s biggest rising stars. Whilst sadly falling short of her dreams to reach Formula 1 (so far), she’s been incredibly solid in sports cars, showing serious pace against other LMP2 class competitors. She also had a go at the new GT3-based iteration of DTM last year and, whilst her results weren’t that spectacular, she could have done a lot better if she’d been allowed to continue on for another season.
With that track record, it’s not unfair to assume that she could do pretty well in the NASCAR Cup Series if she did one or two appearances in the #91 car. Whilst she definitely wouldn’t be the right person to put on an oval circuit, she would definitely have a fighting chance at being quick on a road course. She could also help to bring a bigger audience to NASCAR not only by increasing female representation in the series but also through her behind the scenes-style YouTube content. This would give new fans a great insight into what it’s like to race in this very different environment.
Tony Kanaan is reaching the end of his racing career. Even the man himself will quite openly tell you that. With his last dance in racing getting closer and closer, perhaps now is the time for him to have a decent go with NASCAR? He’s already made a few noises about trying to get a seat sorted for some road course races. Perhaps Trackhouse could help him achieve that?
It’s absolutely no secret that Kanaan is a huge fan favourite with lovers of motorsport the world over. His great personality and never give up attitude, coupled with his wholehearted embrace of sim racing and sim racing creators, would get a whole host of fans who have never watched NASCAR before tuning in to see him have a go.
I originally wasn’t quite sure whether I should include Tatiana Calderon on this list. She seems to be very single-minded in success in open-wheel racing. She does have some experience in tin-tops though between her time in F2 and her time in IndyCar.
Could that mean that it might be worth putting her in the #91 car for a race or two? I think so. Much like the other female drivers I’ve put on this list, her participation in NASCAR would help to boost female representation in the series considerably. Her mainly being an IndyCar driver now would also fulfil Trackhouse’s goal of trying to build bridges between different major racing series.
Sir Lewis Hamilton
Yes, really. I really think Project 91 could be a perfect post-F1 vehicle for Sir Lewis. Why? He’s already shown a fair amount of interest in NASCAR in the past. Some of us will remember that time he did a ride swap with Tony Stewart and how much Hamilton really seemed to enjoy the more back to basics approach of stock cars. Perhaps in a couple of years, after his F1 career is over, he could pull a Raikkonen and make a surprise NASCAR Cup Series debut on a road course?
Of course, this assumes that Sir Lewis will actually want to continue doing any form of racing after he’s left the so-called pinnacle of motorsport. Whilst that is understandable to think that, considering all the other projects he has going on, I really don’t think that will be the case. Hamilton is a racer at heart and he will keep racing for as long as his health allows him to.
Furthermore, Hamilton is a crossover celebrity with real drawing power in terms of his audience. With a star as huge as Sir Lewis making a one-off journey into the NASCAR paddock, you bet the fans and the media will want to be there to get up close and personal with him. The circus surrounding Hamilton would only be good for NASCAR should he ever appear in it.