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Joey Hand Aiming to Help RFK Racing, Ford with Strong Run at Chicago

Joey Hand RFK Racing Chicago Street Course Ford Performance

Photo Credit: Nigel Kinrade, NKP for Ford Performance

Leading into Sunday’s Grant Park 165, the second-ever NASCAR Cup Series event on the streets of Chicago, Illinois, there’s significant buzz around one hot-button topic: Is there anybody capable of defeating Shane van Gisbergen?

If you’re looking for a worthy challenger, look no further than Ford Performance driver Joey Hand, who was tapped by RFK Racing to pilot the organization’s No. 60 Ford Mustang Dark Horse, a third part-time entry known by the identity of #Stage60.

Hand didn’t partake in last year’s inaugural Chicago Street Race but does have previous experience behind the wheel of the seventh-generation racecar in the NASCAR Cup Series, making six road course starts with Rick Ware Racing in 2022.

In those half-dozen starts, Hand recorded a best finish of 20th at Sonoma Raceway, but fared better in qualifying, recording three top-20 starts. That included a ninth-place qualifying effort at Road America, which at the time, was the best effort for Rick Ware Racing.

A winner in the GTLM and DP class of the 24 Hours of Daytona, and a two-time GT Class winner of the 12 Hours of Sebring, the 45-year-old driver has established an impressive resume throughout his career, which has also included a boatload of street racing, which the driver hopes can be useful in his NASCAR experience this weekend.

“I love street racing. I say it all the time. Obviously, I love racing, but street races are just another kind of beast,” Hand said. “People aren’t used to it and it’s one of those things where you run road courses where you have your limit is ‘I’ll put a wheel off in the dirt or gravel’, or at COTA it’s just off the other end of the curb and there’s no big repercussions necessarily, so with the street course it just tightens up your limits. That’s all. I think there is definitely something to be said for those who have done a lot of street racing. Fortunately, I’ve done a lot of them.”

Hand is well-known in the NASCAR world, especially among those in the Ford Performance camp, as the Sacramento, California native helps a lot of the Ford-backed teams in the weeks leading up to road course events.

It’s through that simulation work that he and RFK Racing co-owner, Brad Keselowski, developed such a strong relationship, which ultimately led to the NASCAR Cup Series champion inquiring about the chance of Hand running the Grant Park 165. After clearing it with his current team, and Ford, things were put into motion.

“This one, they came to me,” said Hand. “I think everybody knows that I always have my hand up to go do races in Cup if it came up. Over the last three years I’ve spent a lot of time in the simulator. It’s no secret that that I do sim stuff for Ford and I help a lot of the teams in the weeks leading up to road course racing, so I became closer and closer with the RFK group, but especially Brad [Keselowski]. We kind of hit it off in our time in the simulator and doing work together, and I just have a ton of respect for him.

With details set in stone, obviously, the goal is to finish as well as possible this weekend in Chicago, but there’s hope – at least from Hand’s side, that his countless experiences racing primarily on the road courses will help Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher, and the overall performance of RFK Racing’s road course program.

“I hope I can help a lot. I do spend time with them for the last three years, I’ve been in the sim every week that there’s a road course race if I haven’t had a race,” said Hand. “That’s kind of where this even came from was just because of that relationship we started three years ago and just kind of got better and better with all the people – engineers.”

Some minor pace concerns stem from a poor qualifying day at Sonoma last month, where none of the team’s three entries started inside the top 25. But, through the race, strategy decisions and excellent driving put both full-timers in a position to record top-15 results. Those net-gain decisions certainly haven’t gone unnoticed by Hand, either.

“One thing I noticed a while ago with RFK is what they’re doing in the background was really good,” Hand added. “Even when I was racing against them in 2022, I was like ‘Man, they’re making really good choices.’ Every week they’d always show up and they’re always there at the right time and I think a lot of that has to do with the people in the shop, people that do the sim engineering and stuff like that. I’m excited to be part of the program and I really do hope that we can do stuff that advances their program since they’re giving me the opportunity to go out and race.”

As most new drivers do, Hand knows he’ll have some questions for the RFK Racing full-timers, primarily because they competed on the Chicago Street Course last year, and no matter the road course experience he has, Hand has never driven at Chicago. That, and the frequency of pit stops will be the main areas driving Hand to ask questions, as he attempts to get in race-winning form for Sunday’s Grant Park 165.

If the Ford Performance driver is to follow in the footsteps of Shane van Gisbergen, in collecting his first NASCAR Cup Series win on the streets of Chicago, he’ll first have to beat the Supercars champion, who will drive for Kaulig Racing in the No. 16 this weekend.

It’s going to be a grind, in more ways than one, and Hand is well aware of that. The driver and his son are in the midst of a 20-day trip going from track to track, and he is in the middle of a stretch lasting 29 days where he’ll only be spending ONE at home. Despite all of that, Hand is aware of the chance that lies in front of him.

“This is a really good opportunity for me to help out RFK, help out Ford, but also for me to potentially have a good run too.”

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