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Jim Utter

Jordan Taylor's Cup debut at COTA "an intense experience"

The 31-year-old sportscar ace will make his Cup debut Sunday at COTA, driving the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for the injured Chase Elliott.

Although he admits he “almost crashed the car” in his first two laps of practice on Friday, Taylor has been head-and-shoulders above the other notable outsiders entered in Sunday’s race in terms of performance.

Also competing on Sunday are two former Formula 1 champions – Jenson Button and Kimi Raikkonen, IndyCar driver Conor Daly and seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who has competed in IndyCar the past two seasons.

Of the group, Taylor appears to be in the best position to contend for the win.

A real threat on Sunday

He ended up 10th-fastest in Friday’s lone 50-minute practice session and on Saturday he advanced to the final round of qualifying and earned the fourth starting position for Sunday’s race.

“Expecting one thing and realizing something different, so it was honestly a full new experience,” Taylor said of his experience inside the Cup car. “Yesterday, I felt like I was out of control 90 percent of the time. Today, I felt like I understood what the car was doing.

“We made good set-up changes to kind of help me with that, to give me a better sense of where the grip was. I see people talking about how close the parallels are, but I think if you talk to anybody who has driven both, it’s quite a shocking difference.”

Taylor is a familiar face among Chevrolet NASCAR as he has worked with several drivers on their road racing craft.

Jordan Taylor, Hendrick Motorsports, UniFirst Chevrolet Camaro (Photo by: Jared East / NKP / Motorsport Images)

He has also been working with NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports on the development of their Garage 56 entry in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

However, Taylor had never been presented the opportunity to compete in a NASCAR series until Jeff Gordon, HMS’ vice chairman, approached him with driving for Elliott in road course events during his recovery.

“It was surreal, and honestly felt surreal until getting to the track here and getting into the car in practice. I was shaking the whole time until we actually got to driving,” he said. “It’s definitely an intense experience.

“Obviously, it’s all rushed and last minute, but the guys have done an amazing job prepping me and getting me as prepared as possible. Getting speed out of the car and myself is one thing, I think the race tomorrow will be a whole different animal.”

There are many variables Taylor faces in actual race conditions in the Cup car – double-file restarts, the choose rule and pit stops with 38 other cars are a few – that could present problems.

One thing he was certain of, however, was that HMS would give him a competitive car for the race and his performance Friday and Saturday gave him a sense of “relief.”

“Coming in here, everyone knows it’s a winning car and winning team. If the car’s not up front, there’s one different variable which is the driver not doing his job,” he said. “I knew there’s a lot of eyes on it to perform.

“I’m just glad to make everyone proud, to be honest. I know Jeff and Chad (Knaus) and Mr. (Rick) Hendrick all took a risk on me to put me in this car in this position with no experience in (NASCAR), so I’m just glad to make them proud so far.

“We’ll see how tomorrow goes.”

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