Growing up, competing in NASCAR was never on the horizon for Kris Wright. But COVID-19 derailed those plans.
Originally, Wright, who made a bet with his father at the golf course as a youngster to even race, thought his path would lead him down the open wheel route. After competing in series such as the 2018 IMSA Prototype Challenge (won the championship), the Pirelli World Challenge, there was a fundamental plan in place to head over to Europe in 2020 to run FIA Formula 3 for two years before running a partial IndyCar schedule in 2022.
That didn’t happen.
“NASCAR was a spur of the moment, knee jerk reaction to COVID shutting everything down for me,” Wright told Jayski.com last week.
On June 4, 2020, Wright made his first start on an oval at Hickory Motor Speedway. He said, “My whole entire life got changed upside down the moment that happened.”
That same year, Wright competed in six ARCA Menards Series races, scoring a pair of seventh-place finishes. He made his Camping World Truck Series debut that year at the Daytona International Speedway road course for GMS Racing, the same venue he finished second at in the 2019 24 Hours of Daytona.
In 2021, he ran all seven road course races in the Xfinity Series, earning a best finish of 17th at Watkins Glen International. Simultaneously, he ran the bulk of the Truck schedule for Young’s Motorsports to gain experience on ovals.
“Your first few years in anything, I feel you’re white knuckling it around the racetrack,” he said of his experience thus far. “You don’t really know what you want to feel, what you should feel, what you shouldn’t feel. You’re just trying to be familiar with everything around you at that point.”
Last December, Niece Motorsports announced Wright would run the full season for the team in the Truck Series. After 17 races, he decided it was time for a move, as conversely, Brandonbilt Motorsports was looking to rent out its No. 68 Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series.
“We needed some financial support,” Jerry Brown, team owner of Brandonbilt, said. “We’re like, OK, this will work out pretty good because it will get us through the year, which is what we needed.
“It should work out really well. [Wright] will get experience and run some good cars. He’s got a great team that Brandon [Brown] has built up, and he gets the benefit of walking into that.”
Wright said conversations began in late July about potentially running the No. 68 car. After finishing 34th with a mechanical failure at Watkins Glen, he will compete in eight of the final 11 Xfinity races in 2022. Brandon Brown will drive at Daytona, Texas and Talladega.
“I talked to some of my sponsors and we jumped at it,” he said. “We thought this was the way to go for the end of the 2022 season.”
Admittedly, Wright is going to have a significant learning curve in his starts for Brandonbilt. Ahead of the Watkins Glen race, he was able to get time on the Chevrolet simulator to prepare for a few of the upcoming races.
“Definitely no expectations except just to learn,” Wright said. “I’ve got some great teachers in TJ Majors (spotter). He’s one of the best. Doug Randolph (crew chief) has been with Tyler Reddick, Ross Chastain, Austin Cindric. Just really excited to work with that team and gain as much knowledge as I possibly can.”
Jerry believes that Wright in a good position, as his team has attempted to help develop talent in the past in Mason Diaz and Will Rodgers.
“Our organization is a perfect development organization for drivers that want to move up,” Brown said. “We have great equipment and not having to pay the absorbed fees to be at a tier-one team. In my opinion, for a driver that wants to develop themselves, you need to be in a tier-two team.”
Having to take Brandon out of the car was a tough decision for the team owner. Originally, Brown believed the No. 68 team would have a full-time sponsor for the 2022 season and lost valuable time in the ability of seeking other sponsors.
“Being that he’s my son, I want [Brandon] to go out here and shine and show what he’s got,” Jerry said. “He’s got talent, I just can’t get the right equipment under him. We’ve not been able to financially put together top equipment for him. For what he’s running, he’s done a great job and overachieves his equipment.”
Currently, the team is looking for sponsorship for the 2023 season so it can fill its driver lineup. Jerry assures that he won’t make the mistake a second time.
The focus now, however, is on Wright. And while the driver lacks experience compared to the majority of the Xfinity field, he wants to improve. That’s it.
“The only goal I’ve ever had in racing is to learn and make progress,” he said. “If you get out of the car every time and say, ‘I learned X, Y and Z,’ you’re going to be somebody in five years. That’s the approach we’re taking to it and the partners are all on board with that and so are the teams.”
The series heads to Daytona this weekend where Brandon has four top-10 finishes in nine starts.