File this one into the fact is stranger than fiction folder: Josh Bilicki’s NASCAR journey began after an opportune Facebook Message just a handful of days before a NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Road America in 2016. In an interview with TobyChristie.com, the 25-year old driver touched on the beginnings of his racing career, and he also gave us insight into what his plans for 2021 are looking like.
Sure, he’s becoming a more and more recognizable name in NASCAR nowadays, but did you know that Josh Bilicki didn’t grow up with aspirations of running NASCAR? In fact, he was geared up to pursue a career in sportscar racing.
“My background was sports car racing,” Bilicki recalled. “I ran Mazda Miatas for a while. Really competitive racing class. Low horsepower, learned a lot of how to drive the car, learned how to race. Obviously, growing up I raced Karts. Everything was pointing toward road course racing, and I had the awesome opportunity to race a handful of IMSA races in BMWs and Porsches. I was also coaching private clients. Gentlemen would have Ferraris and Porsches and BMWs and they would buy these cars and they would hire me for a day to coach them and to find where they’re losing time on track using data.”
Unfortunately, for Bilicki, a lack of sponsorship brought his budding sportscar career to a screeching halt.
“My racing career kind of stalled. I didn’t have many opportunities to go pro racing because I didn’t have many sponsors,” Bilicki said. “I had a couple of gentlemen drivers who helped me get in the door, but we couldn’t do a full season. As soon as the opportunity arose to race my first NASCAR Xfinity Series race, which was at Road America – a road course – that opened up a lot of doors for me.”
In his first NASCAR Xfinity Series start, which came in the 2016 Road America 180 driving for Obaika Racing, Bilicki qualified an impressive 23rd. However, his race car had issues with the brake package, which led to two spins in practice. Once the brake issues were resolved, Bilicki was ready to race, and he was competing well in the opening laps. Then, the power faded in his No. 77 machine. Bilicki’s Xfinity Series debut was over after six laps. He finished 38th.
Still, this start got the ball rolling for Bilicki’s NASCAR career. But how did he make the decision to turn to NASCAR? And more importantly, how did a driver with no previous NASCAR experience land a ride in the NASCAR Xfinity Series? Well, it turns out the opportunity for the Wisconsin-native spawned from a decision to randomly send a social media message to Obaika Racing days before the race.
“The only reason I got my first NASCAR ride was because I messaged Obaika Racing on Facebook five days before the race and told them if they needed a driver for Road America, I was available,” Bilicki explained. “They called me and we put a deal together.”
That is absolutely incredible. A Facebook Message led Bilicki from being an out of work sportscar driver to being a NASCAR Xfinity Series competitor.
After Road America, Bilicki would return to Obaika Racing to run the last two events of the 2016 Xfinity Series season at two oval tracks — Phoenix and Homestead.
Oh, did I mention these would mark the first two oval starts of Bilicki’s career in modern stock cars?
“I made my first Xfinity Series start on an oval in 2016 and the only prior circle track experience I had was I raced a Sportsman, a big, heavy old school Monte Carlo looking car,” Bilicki detailed. “I raced it four times in 2012 I believe. I wasn’t very competitive. I didn’t know much about the cars. It was like my second year out of karting. It was basically a big tank. The last race of the year, that engine blew up, I spun around, got hit. Other than that, my only circle track experience was in the Xfinity Series.”
Talk about learning under fire. The kid who grew up and went to High School in Slinger, Wisconsin — home of the Slinger Nationals — had never even raced a Late Model or Super Late Model race before dipping his toes into NASCAR. Since making his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut, Bilicki says he has competed in one Limited Late Model event, but has still never run a Super Late Model event.
Despite the lack of oval experience heading into his foray into NASCAR, Bilicki has began to overcome the learning curve and has increased his presence in the sport each season since his debut in 2016.
Following that three start campaign in 2016, Bilicki made six Xfinity Series starts and two NASCAR Cup Series starts in 2017. He bumped up to a 29-race schedule in the Xfinity Series for 2018 and in 2019, Bilicki ran 10 NASCAR Cup Series races in addition to 23 Xfinity Series events.
This past season, Bilicki sought out with a goal to hopefully run 10 NASCAR Cup Series events. By the time 2020 was over, he had more than doubled that count.
“Last year, at the beginning of the year at Daytona if you asked me how many Cup races I would run, I would probably tell you five to 10 and I ended up running 25-plus races [between Cup and Xfinity],” Bilicki said.
As for the highlight of his 2020 season? That’s obvious. It would have to be the NASCAR Xfinity Series Henry 180 Road America, where he held the lead of the race for four circuits.
“Yeah, that was the highlight of my year, especially leading at Road America,” Bilicki stated with pride. “My home track with home fans. That was the highlight of my year and it’s not like we just got passed in turn one too, you know, we were able to stay up there. That was epic.”
Bilicki has earned the reputation of taking care of his equipment through his young NASCAR career. In fact, in 35-career NASCAR Cup Series starts, Bilicki has only recorded one incident (according to TobyChristie.com’s incident tracker). Bilicki credits his knack for keeping the car clean for opening doors for him despite his obvious lack of oval experience when compared to other drivers who he had been competing for rides with the last few seasons.
“The way I look at it if I were a team owner would I rather have double the money from somebody who crashes every other race, or maybe no money or little sponsorship from somebody who is going to take care of my car?” Bilicki questioned. “And I think I’ve gotten many opportunities to drive because of that situation, so yeah, I take a lot of pride in it. Unfortunately, when I blew a tire at Charlotte, it was so close to the finish line, there were no signs. It really sucks. But to go I think 35 Cup races with just one incident I guess that’s not that bad.”
As Bilicki moves toward the 2021 NASCAR season, the picture of his plans is becoming more and more clear. According to Bilicki, there will be a heavy load of NASCAR Cup Series starts on his schedule again this year with a sprinkle of Xfinity stuff added in.
“I can’t say too much more right now, but my goal is to run as many Cup races as I can, just like last year,” Bilicki said.
While he can’t say too much just yet, it definitely appears that Bilicki will be sticking with Rick Ware Racing for 2021 and beyond if possible.
“Being in Cup is good for me and good for my sponsors especially with a new car coming in 2022, I want to stay relevant in the Cup Series because that’s where you have to be to stay in the sport for very long,” Bilicki explained. “I’m very comfortable with Rick Ware, and Rick treats me really well. I’ve seen him grow since 2017. That was my first Cup race at Sonoma in 2017 and that was his first year in Cup. He took a chance on me, and I took a chance on him being a brand new team and to see how far he’s grown and to see his shop and the cars and the quality of the people he’s hiring for 2021, it’s pretty impressive.”
Bilicki also says that Insurance King, who backed him for 10 NASCAR Cup races and two Xfinity events in 2020 will return in 2021. He also says that Junction Fuels, who were on Bilicki’s Cup car three times last year will return as well, although the total amount of races for each sponsor is still being finalized.
There are also more irons in the fire sponsorship-wise for Bilicki, and he expects to have all of his deals finished in early January.
“We have a handful of sponsors that were on the car last year, that will be coming back too – which I can’t say yet – but we’ll have a pretty good list of sponsors next year and a lot of things in the works right now too, to where it could be a pretty good season next year, a good chunk of races,” Bilicki said. “I had hoped to have everything wrapped up by Christmas, but it’s not looking like that. Just with the weird year it’s been, a lot of decisions have been delayed, but I really hope to have everything wrapped up early January.”
2021 will be another important season for Bilicki. Will he grow even more as a driver? Can he position himself to be in a great place when the NextGen car arrives for 2022? If the guy was able to get a NASCAR Xfinity Series debut secured by way of a Facebook Message, I certainly wouldn’t bet against him.