Canadian Club: Alex Tagliani Ready To Roll With NASCAR Pinty’s Series At NHMS

Alex Tagliani celebrates victory in a NASCAR Pinty’s Series event at Sunset Speedway in Innisfil, Canada in 2015 (Photo: Matthew Manor/Getty Images for NASCAR)

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Musket 250 takes center stage this weekend for the inaugural Full Throttle Weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

But the most famous “open wheel” driver at the track over the weekend certainly won’t be any driver competing in an open wheeled Modified.

That title of most accomplished and well known open wheel driver on the 1.058-mile this weekend will actually sit with a driver competing in a full-fendered ride with the Canadian based NASCAR Pinty’s Series.

The Pinty’s Series will make its first appearance at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Saturday’s Visit New Hampshire 100. The division comes to Loudon in the midst of a feisty battle for the series championship between L.P. Dumoulin and a driver most known for his exploits in Formula style open wheel racing, Alex Tagliani.

“It’s huge for us,” Tagliani told RaceDayCT of the Pinty’s Series getting the opportunity to compete at NHMS. “Having the chance to experience a facility like this and push our cars to a different type of limit than what we’re used to, it’s really interesting. We’re all excited about it.”

The 44-year old Tagliani, a native of Montreal, has spent the bulk of his motorsports career starring first with the former CART Series and later the IndyCar Series.

Tagliani made 131 starts with former CART Series from 2000-2007 and has made 74 starts with the IndyCar Series dating back to 2008. He has made eight career starts in the Indianapolis 500 dating back to 2009.

Tagliani began dabbling with stock cars with the Pinty’s Series in 2007. That dabbling turned to a more focused effort, first with his Tagliani AutoSport team, and this year with his partnership with the Scott Steckly owned 22 Racing team.

“Early on I never competed full-time [with the Pinty’s Series],” Tagliani said. “I was always driving for Team Penske on the road courses and doing the Indy 500 and missing a few races here and there. But, this year we decided to be serious and even though I wanted to be serious, I ended up still getting a call to race XFINITY Series [road course events] at Mid-Ohio and Road America. And one of the hardest things that I had to do was to just say that I needed to focus on my stuff. And I think it paid off because we won races on those weekends and we’re in a fight for the title. It’s cool. The team loves it. They love to see their driver committed to them. Hopefully we can finish that strong.”

Tagliani has two wins and eight top-fives in 11 events this season with the Pinty’s Series. With two events remaining this season he sits second in the standings to Dumoulin, trailing by five points.

In New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Tagliani sees the wildcard of all wildcards for all teams with the division. The series hits the track for their first practice Friday morning.

“Everybody is approaching it with a lot of nerves,” Tagliani said. “A lot of anxiety. It’s blind. Nobody knows what to expect. Our car, the way they’re going to run, the way they’re going to perform, and it’s a new tire on top of that. On top of throwing a new track with a lot of unknowns, we’re throwing a new tire that we’ve never run before. There’s so many unknowns. People are nervous about it. I think the unknowns will play a huge factor.

“Hopefully we’ll be on the side that we find our way around quick and have a good car like we’ve been having this year and we’ll come out where we need to be. But there’s no guarantee. Even though we think we’re doing the right thing there’s a chance that we could be completely at the bottom because we’re off by a bunch. We could be surprised. We could be go about in a logical way. I think you could be a really good team and it just doesn’t go your way. I’ve seen that in professional racing where they know the track and they know what to expect and they still get it wrong and end up at the bottom of the [time] sheet. Who knows? Until I hit the track on Friday I’ll have that little pinch in my chest about not knowing what to expect.”

Tagliani comes to Loudon with some previous experience on track at NHMS, but he doesn’t think it was an experience he can gleen much useful information for. Tagliani was part of the field when the IndyCar Series ran at NHMS in 2011.

It’s an event that’s remembered most for series officials making some questionable cars for restarting the event in the rain, and driver Will Power famously giving series officials a double bird flip off on live television.

“Yeah, the year that we had a couple of restarts in the wet at the end,” Tagliani said. “I think the only thing to take from that is really knowing where you turn left and knowing what the track looks like and knowing your environment. There’s really nothing that you feel that you can apply onto a NASCAR car from that. And 99 percent of our stuff is all about feeling. So the moment you hit the track and you start feeling your car, then you’ll have a new feeling about the track. We were trying to go flat out all around in an IndyCar there. I don’t think that’s ever going to happen in a NASCAR car, going flat out all around. There’s going to be some braking, some entering into the corner with speed but a lot of deceleration compared to an IndyCar. The two techniques are so away from each other.”

Bruton Smith, the chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc, which owns NHMS, once jokingly referred to Loudon as “South Canada”. The NASCAR Pinty’s Series is known for its large and dedicated fan following and Tagliani is expecting that dedication to show this weekend.

“It’s so close to Montreal,” Tagliani said. “[Tuesday] I could have done [the drive] in four hours, but it was longer because of fog. We’re expecting some Canadian fans coming to the track to support the series. We have a huge following … and I think it’s going to be interesting and fun for us to know that there’s going to be a bunch of Canadian fans coming and following our race here. It’s cool. When you see the interest from a variety of people. Not only fans, but media, to come to the track, it shows the excitement and the importance. Being a new track, and this type of track especially for our series, makes the interest much bigger.”

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