AUSTIN, Texas — Earlier this month, Jordan Taylor wasn’t sure if he’d ever compete in a NASCAR race. Then, he got a staggering phone call from his childhood hero Jeff Gordon.
To set the scene, Taylor was helping out NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports’ Garage 56 entry for the 24 Hour of Le Mans in a two-day test at Circuit of The Americas. That test saw all three of the Garage 56 drivers — Jimmie Johnson, Jenson Button and Mike Rockenfeller — get behind the wheel. Taylor, who is serving as the driver coach, did as well, though he was originally only scheduled to get a handful of laps.
When Chad Knaus made Taylor aware that Gordon wanted to speak to him, it was about competing in a one-off race less than three weeks later at COTA to replace an injured Chase Elliott.
The answer was easy. Plus, Gordon knew Taylor was interested in competing in a NASCAR race, should an opportunity ever arise.
“Jeff said, ‘You’re in if you want it,'” Taylor recalled. “So I said, ‘Well I’m in.’ Then it was planning logistics from there.
“It’s a pretty whirlwind experience to get all my licensing done, all the certificates to get approved, drug testing. I was in Sebring for a whole weekend for my IMSA race. It was a hectic week, but it’s nice to get to the racetrack and get down to business.”
Getting down to business is exactly what Taylor did this weekend. The No. 9 car ranked 10th in a 55-minute practice on Friday. Then in Saturday’s qualifying session, he turned the fourth fastest lap for his Cup Series debut.
“I was shocked to see the speed [in practice],” Taylor added. [In qualifying], we made some adjustments and felt super smooth. I felt like I was driving my car, something I was used to, something that was familiar to me. I’m hoping that is going to be the same feeling tomorrow.”
Taylor isn’t going to sugarcoat his lack of experience. He was able to tally an hour-and-a-half of simulator work to prepare for the weekend. Ideally, he would have gotten more than an hour of track time.
As for the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix on Sunday, Taylor isn’t certain of what to expect. He knows the No. 9 car will have pace, as Elliott has won seven road course races in the past five seasons.
“Everybody knows it’s a winning car and a winning team, so if the car isn’t up front there’s one different variable – it’s the driver not doing the job,” Taylor said. “I knew there are a ton of eyes on it to perform.”
Taylor doesn’t believe anything he could have done prior to the weekend will prepare him for the race, however. In practice, he worked on hitting pit road speed and pulling into a pit stall once.
The good thing is, he will have good track position at the start of the race. But he’s also seen how wild restarts can get entering Turn 1.
“I’m sure some guys aren’t super happy that I’m up there,” he noted. “I’ll do my best.”
The four-time IMSA champion hopes he impresses enough eyeballs that he will be able to return to the NASCAR circuit down the road. He’s always wanted to compete on a road course, and Sunday he gets that opportunity.