Valentino Rossi’s personal Monster Energy sponsorship allowed him to check another item off his bucket list: driving a NASCAR Nationwide Series racecar. Monster Energy also happens to sponsor Kyle Busch in the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry entry, and the energy drink company set up a chance for the nine-time World Grand Prix motorcycle champion to sample Busch’s racecar at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s 1.5-mile oval. A “superspeedway” with 24-degree banked turns, Charlotte is one of the fastest tracks in the NASCAR Nationwide Series (even with restrictor plates in the intake to keep speeds down, qualifying speeds last October were in the 193-mph range), so this promotional deal could’ve ended up badly in a number of ways.
has already shown his talent for four wheels in past however (he’s tested a Ferrari F1 car several times, and has competed in World Rally Championship events), and his experience in the NASCAR
machine was no different. The Doctor quickly adapted to the unique characteristics of this particular racecar (after some coaching and input from Busch, who currently holds the record for most NASCAR Nationwide victories with 55 career wins), and was soon running competitive lap times.
“It was so cool to understand the feeling!” said an elated Rossi. “I have a lot of friends from Europe and Italy who follow NASCAR. It looks like it’s a completely different type of racing than what we do in Europe and I expected something more like this—exciting, high speed and a great feeling in the corner. In the bank you have a lot of grip, so you are glued on the racetrack. It was great, I enjoyed it a lot. I love driving the race car, and I always have, so it was exciting to drive a NASCAR.”
“At the beginning it was a bit strange because it’s difficult to go straight,” added Rossi about the unique chassis tuning necessary for the specialized racecars that only race on ovals. “But after some laps, I had a lot of confidence and I was able to go faster and faster and faster. I must say I got along very well with Kyle. He’s a good guy. I like him and he gave me a lot of important advice.”
Busch not only got a big kick out of hanging out with Rossi, he was also quite impressed with the Italian’s driving skills.
“I thought it was a really cool experience and it also helps when you have two guys who are enthusiastic about their sport and have a good mantra about it,” said Busch. “I think Rossi is a really cool dude. We were just having fun, hanging out together. To me, I thought the experience was awesome. It’s cool Monster Energy brought us together, it was a lot of fun. Just getting the feeling of asking him about his sport and him asking me about NASCAR a little bit. Just having the dialogue there was good.
“And as far as driving the car, I thought he did pretty good. He started out a little slow, which is fine, but every lap he picked it up a lot. He got to where he was running some competitive lap speeds—times that would put him in the top-15 in Nationwide Series practice. That’s pretty good for a guy in his first start, who is just coming over and getting used to things and someone that is used to driving on two wheels.”
Coach Joe Gibbs, the owner/operator behind JGR found the entire day to be quite entertaining. “Well it’s exciting, you’ve got Kyle and Valentino – someone that is great on four wheels and someone that is great on two wheels. I think you can even see that everyone here gets hyped up about it too. I think it was a fun deal and it was a lot of fun to be a part of it. I thought Valentino did really well…as a matter of fact I’m thinking about offering him a contract.”
Lin Jarvis, Yamaha MotoGP race boss, admitted his that the NASCAR experience was on his bucket list as well. “For me it’s really fascinating to come here to Charlotte, to the home of NASCAR—this is my first contact with NASCAR, ever—so it’s something I really wanted to do at least one time. To be here with Joe Gibbs Racing and Kyle Busch, that’s as good as it gets. To have Valentino mix it up here, experience the car, is a fascinating experience for him as well. I just saw Valentino when he came in off the track and even through that helmet, you could see that huge smile on his face. He’s enjoying it and I think this is really great. Thanks to Monster Energy for making this possible.”