Following a fourth-place finish at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in the NASCAR XFINITY Series on Aug. 12, James Davison is expected to be among the top contenders for the series’ Johnsonville 180 at Road America this Sunday, Aug. 27.
One question arises from the sport of NASCAR for the driver, who will race the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing for a second and final scheduled time this weekend: does James Davison want to do this more often?
Despite having just two starts the second division of NASCAR, the answer is a confident “yes,” as the Australian is open to becoming a full-time driver — for teams big or small — if opportunities present themselves.
“I’ll be open to anything,” Davison told Frontstretch. “Anything that would gain me experience. One thing I’ve learned to do… you’re best to swallow your pride when you know you’re not going to be in a winning situation, but it will help you get established. It will help when you get your big break.”
Perhaps a win on Sunday could springboard the 30-year-old to that full-time deal. However, it wouldn’t be the first time performance opened doors for Davison, who impressed Steve de Souza, evp of XFINITY and development at JGR, after his run in the 101st Indianapolis 500 earlier this year.
Filling in for an injured Sebastien Bourdais in the 500-miler, Davison started last and raced up into the lead in the late stages before a late wreck relegated him to a non-finish.
Still, the run was noticed by de Souza, who, prior to Indy, had spoken with Davison about a future partnership.
“I’ve been chatting with Steve since Homestead last year since I live in Miami,” Davison said. “We had mutual intentions of trying to put something together, and after I did the Indy 500 and had a good run, that helped motivate all parties to get the deal done.
“[Indy] was a good portion of the reason why I got the call. I had proven I could handle jumping in at the last minute, no practice, starting last and moving through the field. It was a fantastic experience, and it did my profile the world of good. I’ve become aware that the Indy 500 is very much followed and respected by the NASCAR fraternity. Steve was very complimentary of that, quite motivated to get me on board afterwards. It was the right breaks at the right time.”
Indeed, timing had a part in Davison’s opportunity with JGR in 2017. However, timing — and experience — is also where Davison lacks, as oval racing dominates the NASCAR calendars and is often piggybacked with years of ladder series warm-ups for young drivers. Combine experience with the importance of funding, and this NASCAR thing becomes complicated for any hopeful rookie.
“Obviously, it’s no different than any series, but especially in oval racing… you have to be in the right equipment,” he said. “I feel if I was able to get the opportunity to do an oval with JGR, it would prepare me well for a rookie going in with no experience. “I know how tough it is to be competitive on an oval in NASCAR, how specific the skill set is. How all these young drivers who grew up on dirt tracks, racing late models, ARCA, Trucks, how well prepared they are. They’re essentially like lab rats, NASCAR lab rats, specifically groomed to be in NASCAR.
“But they’re not groomed to be road course drivers, which is where this opportunity presents itself to me to run competitively in the No. 20 car. At this stage, I am best to focus on where I can put my experience to best use, which is road course. Try to at least become a road course ringer and build it from there.”
Road course racing, particularly in the XFINITY ranks, is where chaos meets close racing, dirt, sand and maniacal restarts. Though Davison is approaching only start three, he feels NASCAR is a perfect place to release his aggressive racing nature with loud cars and go-for-broke competition.
“Driving the car is a big balancing act,” he said. “They’re very heavy, have a ton of horsepower, high center of gravity. Driving the car consistently over a stint is quite tricky. That was a bit of an eye-opener.
“The racing, it’s quite a free-for-all and every man for themselves. I’m an aggressive racer; I certainly like NASCAR’s regulations where the driver sorts it out. The downside is when you deserve an X-place finish and you get knocked off the track on the last lap. But it absolutely suites my aggressive nature and style of racing.”
It’s never too late to learn something new. Following five starts in the Verizon IndyCar Series, including three of the last four Indy 500s, Davison is enjoying the factors that make NASCAR unique. Of course, Davison is inherently unique himself, driving in an American-dominated starting field. With these overseas roots, Davison hopes to do his country proud in competitive NASCAR equipment.
“I’m aware that NASCAR racing is all-American, centered around grassroots short track drivers,” he said. “I’m not going to be the kind of guy who pulls the Australian flag out and waves it in front of the fans. But I’m certainly proud to be Australian. Marcos Ambrose did a very good job of coming off as a nice guy. I’m taking that responsibility among the first Aussie to run competitively in NASCAR. There is an important responsibility there.”
With a growing experience level, appreciation for a top ride and a commitment to a long-term NASCAR career, the stage is set for James Davison Sunday at Road America.
“I’m expected to fight up there in the top three for sure,” he said. “I have experience, this team has a very good track record. Our plan is to combine them together and try and win.”